[Roy Armes]African Filmmaking North and South of the Sahara(pdf){Zzzzz}

This new series introduces diverse and fascinating movements in world cinema. Each volume
concentrates on a set of films from a different national, regional or, in some cases, cross-cultural
cinema which constitute a particular tradition. Volumes cover topics such as Japanese horror
cinema, new punk cinema, African cinema, Italian neorealism, Czech and Slovak cinema and the
Italian sword-and-sandal film.
Traditions in World Cinema
Series Editors: Linda Badley and R. Barton Palmer
Founding Editor: Steven Jay Schneider
North and South of the Sahara
• An overview of the socio-political context shaped by Islam and French colonialism.
• A look at filmmaking in Africa before the mid-1960s.
• An examination of the inputs of African and French governments into post-independence
developments North and South of the Sahara.
• A historical survey of the two major tendencies in African film production over the past 40 years.
• A detailed analysis of the work of five talented young filmmakers, representative of those born
since independence.
Roy Armes is Emeritus Professor of Film at Middlesex University and author of numerous books
on cinema including Arab and African Film Making (with Lizbeth Malkmus), Dictionary of North African
Film Makers and Postcolonial Images: Studies in North African Film. His work has been translated into
fourteen languages, including Bengali, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic.
North and South of the Sahara
African Filmmaking: North and South of the Sahara is the first comprehensive study in English
linking filmmaking in the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) with that in francophone West
Africa and examining the factors (including Islam and the involvement of African and
French governments) which have shaped post-independence production. The main focus is the
development over forty years of two main traditions of African filmmaking: a social realist strand
examining the nature of postcolonial society and a more experimental approach where emphasis
is placed on new stylistic patterns able to embrace history, myth and magic.The work of younger
filmmakers born since independence is examined in the light of these two traditions.
Cover design: River Design, Edinburgh
Cover image: Nja Mahdaoui
Nja Mahdaoui is a painter, designer and artist who
lives and works in Tunis (http://nja-mahdaoui.com).
ISBN 0 7486 2124 5
Edinburgh University Press
22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF
North and South of the Sahara
General Editors
Linda Badley (Middle Tennessee State University)
R. Barton Palmer (Clemson University)
Founding Editor
Steven Jay Schneider (New York University)
Titles in the series include:
Traditions in World Cinema
by Linda Badley, R. Barton Palmer and Steven Jay Schneider (eds)
0 7486 1862 7 (hardback)
0 7486 1863 5 (paperback)
Japanese Horror Cinema
by Jay McRoy (ed.)
0 7486 1994 1 (hardback)
0 7486 1995 X (paperback)
New Punk Cinema
by Nicholas Rombes (ed.)
0 7486 2034 6 (hardback)
0 7486 2035 4 (paperback)
African Filmmaking: North and South of the Sahara
by Roy Armes
0 7486 2123 7 (hardback)
0 7486 2124 5 (paperback)
Forthcoming titles include:
American Commercial-Independent Cinema
by Linda Badley and R. Barton Palmer
0 7486 2459 7 (hardback)
0 7486 2460 0 (paperback)
Italian Neorealist Cinema
by Peter Bondanella
0 7486 1978 X (hardback)
0 7486 1979 8 (paperback)
The Italian Sword-and-Sandal Film
by Frank Burke
0 7486 1983 6 (hardback)
0 7486 1984 4 (paperback)
Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition
by Peter Hames
0 7486 2081 8 (hardback)
0 7486 2082 6 (paperback)
North and South of the Sahara
Roy Armes
© Roy Armes, 2006
Edinburgh University Press Ltd
22 George Square, Edinburgh
Typeset in 10/12.5 Adobe Sabon
by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Manchester, and
printed and bound in Great Britain by
MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall
A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN-10 0 7486 2123 7 (hardback)
ISBN-13 978 0 7486 2123 1
ISBN-10 0 7486 2124 5 (paperback)
ISBN-13 978 0 7486 2124 8
The right of Roy Armes
to be identified as author of this work
has been asserted in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
List of Acronyms
1 The African Experience
2 Beginnings
3 African Initiatives
4 The French Connection
5 Liberation and Postcolonial Society
6 Individual Struggle
7 Experimental Narratives
8 Exemplary Tales
9 The Post-Independence Generation
10 Mahamat Saleh Haroun (Chad)
11 Dani Kouyaté (Burkina Faso)
12 Raja Amari (Tunisia)
13 Faouzi Bensaidi (Morocco)
14 Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauritania)
Here, as with all my writings about African filmmaking, I owe a huge debt to
Guido Aristarco, who organised a series of conferences in Bulgaria in 1978–9
in connection with a projected General History of World Cinema. This was the
context in which I first met Ousmane Sembene, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and
Ferid Boughedir and discovered, much to my surprise, that there was indeed an
African cinema, made by African filmmakers, happily far removed from the
Tarzan films I had devoured as a child. The encounter with what was still
unproblematically called ‘third world cinema’ changed for ever my hitherto
wholly Euro-centric approach to writing about film.
This book owes its immediate existence to the persuasive powers of Steven
Jay Schneider and R. Barton Palmer, the patience of Sarah Edwards and my
own dislike of prime numbers (I have previously published seventeen books).
My thanks go to John Flahive of the BFI for a VHS copy of Aristotle’s Plot, to
Dominique Sentiles of Médiathèque des Trois Mondes, Cornelius Moore and
Gene Sklar of California Newsreel, and Renald Spech of ArtMattan for help in
purchasing video tapes. I am also very grateful to Jeanik Le Naour for arranging Paris screenings at ADPF and to Kevin Dwyer for his invaluable support on
many aspects of Moroccan cinema.
I must also thank the following individuals and organisations for permission
to reproduce stills: the Montpellier International Festival for Bye Bye Africa,
Duo Films for Abouna, La Vie sur terre (© Marie Jaoul de Poncheville and
Anaïs Jeanneret) and Heremakono (© Kranck Verdier), California Newsreel for
Keita, L’héritage du griot, ArtMattan Productions for Sia, Dani Kouyaté for
Ouaga Saga (© Didier Bergounhoux), Nomadis Images for Satin Rouge, and
Optimum Releasing for Mille mois.
Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique France
Atelier du Cinéma Européen
Association des Cinéastes Tunisiens
Appui au Développement des Cinémas du Sud
Association pour la Diffusion de la Pensée
Association des Jeunes Cinéastes Tunisiens
Armée de Libération Nationale
Agence Nationale des Actualités Filmées
Agence Nationale de Promotion de
British Film Institute
Centre Algérien pour l’Art et Industrie
Centre Algérien de la Cinématographie
Consortium Audiovisuel International
Centre Audio-Visuel
Centre Cinématographique Marocain
Centre de Diffusion Cinématographique
Centre National du Cinéma
Consortium Interafricain de Distribution
Burkina Faso
CIPROFILM Consortium Inter-Africain de Production de
Burkina Faso
Compagnie Ivoirienne de Cinéma et
Ivory Coast
Conservatoire Libre du Cinéma Français
Centre National de la Cinématographie
Centre National du Cinéma
Burkina Faso
(1) Centre National du Cinéma Algérien
(2) Centre National du Cinéma et de
l’Audiovisuel (2004)
Centre National de Production
Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art
COMACICO Compagnie Africaine Cinématographique
Industrielle et Commerciale
Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies
Deutsche Film-AG
Direction Nationale du Cinéma
Burkina Faso
Entreprise Nationale de Distribution et
d’Exploitation Cinématographiques
Entreprise Nationale de Production
Entreprise Nationale de Productions
Entreprise Nationale de Télévision
Etablissements Radio-Télévision Tunisiens
Ecole Supérieure des Etudes
Ecole Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle
Fédération Algériennne des Ciné-Clubs
Fédération Africaine des Ciné-Clubs au Sud
du Sahara
Black Africa
Filmov Akademie Múzickych Umení (Film &
Television Faculty of the Academy of
Performing Arts)
Fonds d’Aide à la Production
Cinématographique Nationale
Fonds d’Action Sociale
Fonds Européen de Développement
Fondation Européenne des Métiers de l’Image
et du Son
Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes
Festival Panafricain du Cinéma de Ougadougou Burkina Faso
Festival International du Film Amateur de
Fonds Images Afrique
Front de Libération Nationale
Fédération Nationale des Ciné-Clubs au Maroc Morocco
Fonds pour le Développement de l’Industrie
Fédération Tunisienne des Cinéastes Amateurs
Fédération Tunisienne de Ciné-Clubs
German Democratic Republic
Gouvernement Provisoire de la République
Institut Communal des Arts Décoratifs et
Industriels de Liège
Institut Africain d’Education
Burkina Faso
Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques France
Institut d’Études Théatrales
Institut Français de Cinéma
Institut du Monde Arabe
Institut National de l’Audiovisuel
Institut National de Cinéma
Institut National des Arts du Spectacle et
Techniques de Diffusion
Institut National des Sciences de l’Information
et de la Communication
Insitut Supérieur d’Art Dramatique et
d’Animation Culturelle de Rabat
Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage
Motion Picture Export Association of
Nationale Commissie Voorlichting
Bewustworging Ontwikkelingssamenwerking
National Film and Television Academy
Nederlandse Omroepstichting
Office des Actualités Algériennes
Organisation of African Unity
Office Beninois de Cinéma
Organisation Commune Africaine et
Organisation Catholique Internationale du
Office Cinématographique National du Mali
Office de Coopération Radiophonique
Office National du Cinéma
Office National du Cinéma Dahoméen
Office National du Commerce et de l’Industrie
Office de Radiodiffusion et de Télévision
Radiodiffusion Télévision Algérienne
Radio-Télévision Marocaine
Radio-Télévision Tunisienne
Service Algérien du Cinéma
Société Anonyme Tunisienne de Production
et d’Expansion Cinématographiques
Service Cinématographique du Ministère de
l’Information du Mali
Service de Diffusion Cinématographique
Société d’Exploitation Cinématographique
Secrétariat d’Etat aux Affaires Culturelles et
à l’Information
Société Ivoirienne du Cinéma
Ivory Coast
Société d’Importation, de Distribution et
d’Exploitation Cinématographiques
Société Nationale de Productions
Société Nationale d’Edition et de Diffusion
Société Nationale Burkinabé du Cinéma
Burkina Faso
Société Nationale Voltaïque du Cinéma
Burkina Faso
Société Tunisienne de Diffusion
Télévision Nationale du Burkina
Burkina Faso
Théâtre National Populaire
University of California at Los Angeles
Union Africaine de Cinéma
Vsesoyuznyi gosudarstvennyi institut
kinematografii (All-Union State Cinema
In memory of Lionel Ngkane
Friend and filmmaker
If Africans remain mere consumers of cinema and television images conceived and produced by others, they will become second-rate citizens of
the world and be forced to accept a destiny which will not take into
account their history, their basic aspirations and even less their values,
their imaginary and their vision of the world.
If Africa does not acquire the capacity to forge its own gaze, so as to confront its own image, it will lose its point of view and its self-awareness.
Gaston Kabore
The progress of the means of communication and information have made
Africa enter this ‘global village’ which the planet has become and which
henceforth makes every country a house of glass where nothing is the
same as before. Open to the world’s evolution and aware of belonging to
a public opinion more and more sure of its rights, Africans desire henceforth to participate in the administration of their society.
Émile Mworoha and Bernard Nantet1
The contradictions of modern Africa which stem from the co-existence of
widely differing values are still the inescapable reality.
Shatto Arthur Gakwandi2
The Postcolonial Situation
Filmmaking in Africa by Africans is fundamentally a postcolonial activity and
experience, and nowhere is this more the case than in the two contiguous but
variously colonised geographical areas dealt with in this book. The first area
comprises the North African countries forming the Maghreb: Tunisia and
Morocco, which both became independent in 1956, and Algeria, whose independence was achieved only after a long and bloody war of liberation in 1962.
The second area comprises the states formed south of the Sahara from the two
giant colonies of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa, which were
divided at independence into the twelve separate countries now known as Benin
(formerly Dahomey), Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Niger,
Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon
and Congo. To this list we may add the two West African states which were formerly German colonies but had become French protectorates after the First
World War: Togo and Cameroon. These two were granted their independence
in 1960, along with all the other West African States apart from Guinea, which
had proclaimed its independence in 1958. The two contiguous areas north and
south of the Sahara together provide a continuous unbroken land mass of just
under 11 million square kilometres (about 16.5 per cent larger than the United
States). About a third of this area (3.2 million square kilometres) is in the
Maghreb and just over two thirds (7.7 million square kilometres) in the south.
The whole stretches from the Mediterranean to the banks of the Congo, and
from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to the borders of the Sudan. This huge area
is home to some 175 million people, 65 million in the Maghreb and 110 million
to the south.
A good starting point for an understanding of the contemporary situation of
this area is to consider the nature of the independence achieved in the startlingly
brief time span between 1958 and 1962. In the words of Roland Oliver, the title
of whose book I have borrowed for this section, most modern African nations
inherited a colonial structure:
Their frontiers were all colonial frontiers, agreed in the 1880s and 1890s.
Their capitals were the colonial capitals, from which radiated the colonial
infrastructures of roads and railways, posts and telecommunications. All
retained, in some measure, the languages of the colonizers as languages
of wider communication.3
As a result, he adds that ‘for 97 per cent of the population, independence as
such made little practical difference’.4 Writing in 1980, Richard W. Hull
advanced similar views, arguing that ‘behaviour and status systems of the
former colonialists have been adopted by African elites as their own’, while
‘social stratification has increased since independence in nearly all African
Hull also claims that regardless of their actions, ‘most African nationalists
were sincerely interested in building a modern nation state’.6 As a result,
despite the somewhat doubtful beginnings, each new independent African
state has become fully a ‘nation’ in the terms defined by Benedict Anderson,
namely ‘an imagined political community’. It is ‘imagined’ because ‘the
members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellowmembers, meet them, or even hear of them’. It is ‘political’ in the sense that it
is both limited (all nations have boundaries) and yet sovereign within those
boundaries. And it is a ‘community’ because, whatever the real social divisions, ‘the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship’.7
The latter idea, Anderson argues, allows one of the most amazing aspects of
a national state, namely that it makes it possible ‘for so many millions of
people, not so much to kill, as willing to die for such limited imaginings’.8
When we look at the current problems faced by so many African states, it is
too easy to blame outside factors, such as postcolonial dominance. Cruise
O’Brien and Rathbone’s reminder about West African states applies equally
to the countries of the Maghreb: ‘These states have . . . reached maturity.
Each has an adult generation which grew up in a sunlight unshaded by the tricolore or the Union Jack’.9 But the heritage of the colonial era is none the less
While the newly independent African ex-colonies have undoubtedly become
nation states in the conventional Western sense, the particular state form which
they inherited – the structure of the colonial state – is deeply flawed. The colonial state is necessarily characterised by ‘autocratic centralism’, since, in such a
state, all real power of policy and decision was gathered at the executive
summit, embodied in a supreme governor appointed in London or Paris. Hence,
as Basil Davidson points out, the phenomenon of nationalism becomes much
more complex than it first seemed, being ‘the ambiguous fruit of an opposition
or a counterpoint between the themes of the African past and those of the cultures of the imperialist nations which colonized the continent’.10 Davidson sets
out the current dilemma with striking clarity: is the African nation state vowed,
as in Europe, ‘to a history of international conflict, rivalry, and mutual destruction?’ Or does it contain the seeds of ‘a development toward regional and even
subcontinental systems of organic union, and therefore toward new modes of
cultural emancipation?’.11 Such ambiguities were not anticipated at the
moment of independence, and Frantz Fanon’s celebrated essay ‘On National
Culture: Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom’12
could serve as both an inspiration for the first African filmmakers and a means
by which critics could assess their work.13
The leaders of the newly independent states of Africa in the 1950s saw
themselves as the enemies of colonialism and its tyrannies and, as Roland
Oliver observes, like most educated Africans, ‘virtually all were, in European
and American terms, people of the left’.14 Most of them sought – and many
claimed to have found – ‘a kind of indigenous socialism inherent in African
tradition’.15 The political tool to be used as the instrument of ‘African socialism’ was the ‘party’, ‘seen not as a contender for power at successive elections,
when its record and programme was presented to the people for approval,
but as the animating mind and purpose of the whole nation, established and
The model for this party was not, however, the Western democratic system
under whose auspices the new national constitutions had been written, but ‘the
Marxist-Leninist tradition of eastern Europe’.17 The result was the typical
African single-party state where, as Richard W. Hull notes,
the executive, administrative and legislative cadres are intertwined. The
one-party states tend to be monolithic and absorb the youth movements,
trade unions, and the cooperatives. Opposition is permitted, but only
within the context of the party organs and within the general framework
of the national ethos, as defined by the party.18
As in eastern Europe, this form of autocratic rule has not favoured economic
growth or development, and the resulting social discontent is at least partly
responsible for the successive military coups which are such a feature of African
political rule. Where Islam is the dominant religion, the situation is perhaps
even more extreme, since the distinction in the Christian West between church
and state is not matched by a similar split within Islam. There is no Muslim
state in Africa or the Arab world as a whole which functions as more than a
notional democracy. African filmmakers – like African cultural workers as a
whole – have therefore to find means to operate – that is to say, to find necessary freedoms – under political systems where autocracy is the norm.
French Influence
It is generally agreed that traditional African social organisation and development resulted in ‘clusters of small states sharing a common language and
culture’,19 some of which were later incorporated into larger states. From this
pattern stems the huge linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity of contemporary
Africa, which in turn makes generalisation about ‘Africa’ (or ‘African cinema’
for that matter) so hazardous. As a UNESCO report of 1993 noted, ‘whenever
there has been near confrontation and competition between the forces of
ethnicity on the one side and the forces of class-consciousness on the other, ethnicity has almost invariably triumphed in Africa.20 Associated with these ethnic
groups were specific religious practices, since, ‘as everywhere in the world,
African statecraft was much involved with religion and magic’.21 Though early
post-independence filmmakers – often strongly influenced by Marxist thinking –
were largely hostile to religion (viewed as mere superstition), traditional African
religious practices and beliefs do find expression from the mid-1980s in an
increasing number of very striking films.
Superimposed upon the traditional pattern of social organisation and religion
was the reorganisation of Africa into forty or so large colonies in which an educational system which favoured Europeanised teaching was offered to the talented few. The French system, in West Africa as elsewhere, produced ‘educated
Africans who were known as assimilés – those who could be assimilated into the
superior culture and administration which France had brought to Africa’.22 By
the 1940s these assimilés had acquired the right to vote in French elections, and
it was from their ranks that the first leaders of the independent states of the late
1950s and early 1960s emerged. As Hull notes, such a system meant that ‘the
leaders of the newly independent governments of French-speaking Africa tended
to have closer emotional ties to their former colonial master than did their
English-speaking counterparts’.23 French cultural policies – including those concerning cinema – can be seen, in part, as a response to this emotional connection. But this should not mask the underlying reason for France’s continued
involvement with its former colonies, its self-interest. As Donal B. Cruise
O’Brien aptly observes, ‘the true justification for France’s investment in post
imperial Africa, an investment much more substantial than was provided by
Britain for her African ex-colonies, was the maintenance of French national
In the colonies – for the emerging African elites as well as for the whites –
European languages became the languages of politics, administration and commerce, and the focus was on communication with the revelant capital in Europe
rather than with any neighbouring colony. The question of language is crucial
in any colonial or postcolonial situation. As Albert Memmi notes, the majority
of the colonised will ‘never have anything but their native tongue; that is, a
tongue which is neither written nor read, permitting only uncertain and poor
oral development’.25 But even the child ‘who has the wonderful good luck to
be accepted in a school will not be saved nationally’.26 The mastery of two languages creates, for many, a painful duality, since ‘the colonized’s mother tongue,
that which is sustained by his feelings, emotions and dreams, that in which his
tenderness and wonder are expressed, that which holds the greatest emotional
impact, is precisely the one which is least valued.27
For writers using the language of the coloniser in their work, this duality can
impose real tensions (which, in creative terms can be positive as well as merely
negative). But the technology of film offers a very different solution. Film dialogue in the native tongue can be followed easily by even an illiterate (if limited)
African public, while, at the same time, subtitles can make the film accessible
to a Western audience (with the local language adding that touch of ‘otherness’
so prized on the art house circuit). This is one reason why the vast majority of
films both north and south of the Sahara use local variants of Arabic and
regional or national languages, even if – for the purposes of obtaining vital
foreign aid or co-production finance – the film has had originally to be scripted
and dialogued in French.
But though European languages were imposed on Africa, there was no matching transfer of Western technology. Noting that ‘the only non-European society
that borrowed effectively from Europe and became capitalist is that of Japan’,
Walter Rodney argues that a similar development was impossible for Africa
because ‘the very nature of Afro-European trade was highly unfavourable to the
movement of positive ideas and techniques from the European capitalist system
to the African pre-capitalist (communal, feudal, and pre-feudal) system of production’.28 But even for a society like Japan, the necessary adaptations proved
difficult. In an essay written in 1933, the Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki
describes the transition in words that have equal resonance for Africa:
The Westerner has been able to move forward in ordered steps, while we
have met superior civilisation and have had to surrender to it, and we have
had to leave a road we have followed for thousands of years. The missteps and inconveniences this has caused have, I think, been many.29
Tanizaki’s specific comments on film and the sound media have equal applicability to the African situation:
One need only compare American, French, and German films to see
how greatly nuances of shading and colouration can vary in motion pictures . . . If this is true even when identical equipment, chemicals, and film
are used, how much better our own photographic technology might have
suited our complexion, our facial features, our climate, our land. And had
we invented the phonograph and the radio, how much more faithfully
they would reproduce the special character of our voices and our music.30
We must never forget that the technology of filmmaking introduced after independence was a borrowed technology and that the prestige of existing Western
applications of this technology could not fail to impress emergent African
The basic contradictions of the postcolonial situation – political independence within a colonial social structure, a bilingual adminstrative culture, the coexistence of the trappings of a modern state (a seat at the United Nations,
a national flag and anthem, a national airline, and so on) with a life for the
majority of the population unchanged since at least the nineteenth century –
form the context for any aspect of postcolonial culture, including filmmaking.
As part of the small but slowly expanding élite of relatively educated and
upwardly mobile people, the African filmmakers we are considering here are
totally caught up – in their lives and work – within the ambiguities of this
process. Indeed with their bilingual culture, their university degrees (often at
postgraduate or doctoral level) and their foreign technical training, they are
among the brightest members of this élite.
The two areas north and south of the Sahara were colonised in quite
different ways. French West and French Equatorial Africa were territorial
groupings administered as colonies, Togo and Cameroon were mandates
administered on behalf of the League of Nations (and subsequently trusteeships under the United Nations), Tunisia and Morocco were French protectorates (the latter with Tangier as ‘an international zone’), while Algeria after
1881 was technically part of metropolitan France (comprising three ‘départements’ electing representatives to the French parliament). It is a reflection of
this colonial situation that Maghrebian and Sub-Saharan filmmakers are often
referred to as belonging to a francophone African cinema (as opposed to an
anglophone or a lusophone one). Yet in their films they use almost exclusively
local or national languages: Moré for Gaston Kabore and Idrissa Ouadraogo
from Burkina Faso, Bambara for Cheick Oumar Sissoko from Mali, colloquial Arabic for the Maghrebian filmmakers, and even Tamzight (the Berber
language) for films set in the High Atlas mountains made by Algerian directors in the mid-1990s, when use of this language finally became legal in
Algeria. Even after independence, French influence has remained strong
throughout the areas north and south of the Sahara and, as Denise Brahimi
notes, the term ‘francophone’ is useful to denote countries where French continues to be used as both a written and a cultural language and where extensive literatures in French – poetry, novels and drama – continue to thrive.
Brahimi’s definition is the one that will be used here: ‘Concretely, the so-called
francophone countries are those whose cultural orientation, comprising
several sorts of exchange, is much more towards France than towards the
anglophone countries’.31
The reasons for the persistence of French-language literatures are complex.
Jacqueline Kaye notes, in the introduction to a recent collection of new
writing from North Africa translated from both French and Arabic, that bior multilingualism can be a fruitful context for a writer’s creativity: ‘Writers
and speakers in these countries exist in a constant linguistic flux . . . creating
an everyday awareness of the historicity of language’.32 As Kaye also points
out, French-educated Berber writers, such as Driss Chraïbi in Morocco
and Mouloud Feraoun in Algeria, ‘may have had other than purely pragmatic
reasons for preferring French over Arabic’, since French was ‘the first
“choice” language for those who wished to disassociate themselves from the
postcolonial ruling classes’.33 Language use always carries complex implications. As Cruise O’Brien has noted, a Senegalese individual ‘in choosing to
speak Wolof most of the time, principally in town, seems in the long run to
be making an ethnic and even a national choice’, but this may well be a strategy of avoiding confrontation, ‘skulking across a no man’s land of identity’,
in a state dominated by Wolof speakers.34 Elsewhere, in Cameroon for
example, the multiplicity of local languages has made the use of the French
language an inevitability for novelists, and Mongo Beti has given a strong
defence of such a stance:
The totally free creation of French-language works by Africans is the ideal
means of imposing their imagination, their genius, their sensibility, and
the natural tendencies of their pronunciation on a language which would
otherwise remain a foreign dialect, a mere instrument to keep them in
their place, a new pretext for their secular servitude.35
While Cameroonian filmmakers have been similarly compelled to use French dialogue in their work, the use of their local or national languages has at least saved
most African filmmakers from what is, so often, an ambiguous compromise.36
In addition to the common heritage of French colonization, another unifying
factor is the shared influence of Islam. Roland Oliver points out that, when
looked at from the traditional standpoint of both European and Middle Eastern
history, ‘the part of Africa to the north of the central Sahara is not really African
at all. Egypt and the Mahrib, conquered in the seventh and eighth centuries and
fully Islamised by the tenth, belong almost to the Islamic heartland. They are
the Muslim “west” ’ (this is the meaning of the Arab term ‘Maghreb’). Yet seen
from the Islamic south, from countries where ‘Islam has been established for
six to eight centuries, and where the main direction of trade, travel, forced
migration and cultural influence has been northwards across the desert’, the
perspective is very different: ‘It is the Islamic factor in all its historical depth
that makes North African countries inescapably a part of Africa, whatever
other affiliations may be claimed for them.37 The anthropologist Jacques
Maquet also argues that the division of Africa into two cultural areas, one north
and one south of the Sahara, is arbitrary: ‘The great desert, though in some
respects a barrier, has also been a communication route, witness the map of
caravan trails linking the Mediterranean coast to Niger and Chad’.38 In a
similar way, ‘Islam, a religion with scriptures, is not confined to North Africa
but extends widely south of the Sahara from coast to coast’.39
David Robinson, who notes that 50 per cent of all Africans are Muslims
(making up a quarter of the world’s total), sees two processes at work over the
past 1,400 years: the islamisation of Africa and the africanisation of Islam.40
One of the major paths by which Islam spread into Sub-Saharan Africa was
along the East African coast – what Robinson calls the ‘Swahili gateway’. The
other was via the various trade routes through the Sahara desert, mainly controlled by Berber tribesmen who acted as traders and guides for camel caravans.
Some of these Berbers were welcomed by non-Muslim rulers ‘to reinforce the
wealth and strength of their dominions’.41 Others, such as the Almoravids,
adopted a more militant stance and imposed Islam by military conquest (as
Mohamed’s early Bedouin followers had done). But in spreading south of the
Sahara, Islam was appropriated or articulated in a variety of societies which
‘created “Muslim” space or made Islam their own’.42 As David Robinson
further notes, ‘Muslims in different parts of Africa were eager to express their
faith in concrete terms, what academics often call visual culture’.43 Today’s filmmakers – caught between their French education and their Islamic heritage –
offer an ambiguous, but totally contemporary – African visual culture.
All the states considered here have either Muslim majorities or significant
Muslim minorities and, as Richard W. Hull observes, ‘the independence period
has been characterised by the accelerating growth in Islam. It has been estimated that for every one convert to Christianity, there are nine converts to
Islam’.44 Cruise O’Brien makes further clear that the interaction between contemporary Islam and the inherited structures of French colonial rule has been
extremely complex. While developing its own institutional forms, Islam has
‘helped to give substance to institutions of Western importation, in the institutions of the colonial and of the postcolonial state’.45 As a result, we need to see
the outcome as ‘less a clash of civilisations, pitting Islam against the West or the
rest, than a negotiation of civilisations, Islam coming to the rescue of the
Western institutional legacy in Africa’.46
There is a distinction too to be made between those African Muslims who,
while accepting Arabic as the sacred language of the Koran, continue to use in
their everyday lives one of the multitude of indigenous languages of SubSaharan Africa, and those – such as the bulk of the population of the Maghreb –
who have become arabised. Yet the split between the language of family and
the language of external communication typical south of the Sahara does find
a parallel in the linguistic situation in the Arabic-speaking countries of the
Maghreb. If anything, the situation there is even more complex since the term
‘Arabic’ is used to describe three different forms of the same language: ‘classical Arabic, which is the language of the Koran, the holy book of Islam; colloquial, or spoken, Arabic, as used in the daily lives of the people of the Arab
countries; and modern standard Arabic, sometimes also called modern literary
The Koran, written around ad 650, has been the key unifying factor in the
Islamic world. Modern standard Arabic also serves to bring Arabs together,
since it is the form in which most newspapers, magazines and books are written.
It is also, in its spoken version, the language of radio and television throughout
the Arab world, with the result that ‘every Arab who is literate reads modern
standard Arabic’ and ‘nearly every Arab, even if illiterate, will understand the
spoken version of modern standard Arabic to some extent’.48 But spoken colloquial Arabic, which is inevitably used in films depicting ordinary people’s
everyday lives, is very different in each Arab country. This creates considerable
difficulties of inter-Arab communication and exchange particularly for the
Maghreb ‘where the influence of the Berber languages and French has rendered
the contemporary colloquial almost incomprehensible to Eastern Arabs’.49 As
a result, very few Maghrebian films receive wide distribution in the Arab world.
The linguistic, as well as political, difficulties faced by the Organisation of
African Unity, founded in 1963, have been paralleled by those of the PanAfrican Federation of filmmakers (Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes, or
FEPACI), set up in 1970 and aligned to it.
The importance of Islam in African literature is explored in The Marabout and
the Muse, in which the editor, Kenneth W. Harrow, deals with a wide range of
issues: developments in key geographical areas such as Nigeria and the Maghreb,
the novels of internationally known European-language novelists such as the
Somalian Nuruddin Farah, the Moroccan Driss Chraïbi and the Algerian Assia
Djebar, and the work of the host of lesser-known writers working in a variety of
forms in African languages. As Harrow observes, the volume bears witness to
‘Islam’s pluralist heritage’ in such a way that ‘we see emerging a view of Islam
that sets pluralism against mono-culturalism, and that locates these opposing
poles at the heart of Islam itself’.50 Widely differing attitudes to Islam – and indeed
to Christianity and traditional beliefs – are to be found in post-independence
African films. Early Sub-Saharan filmmakers, led by the Marxist Ousmane
Sembene, were generally hostile to what were seen as tyrannical abuses of Islam,
while in the north, as the Tunisian director Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud has noted,
‘virtually all well-heeled intellectuals have no roots in Muslim culture’.51 But
because of the filmmakers’ concern with the everyday realities of life in a Muslim
culture, Islam has been a constant factor in films north and south of the Sahara.
A World of Contradictions
The co-existence of the diverse influences of France and Islam points to a fundamental factor about African life and culture: to be an African is to live in seemingly contradictory worlds. Jacques Maquet looks at the whole history of Africa,
from prehistoric times to the industrial era, in terms of six successive ‘civilisations’, and he points to the continued existence of all six in contemporary Africa.
But they now exist in very modified forms. Huntsmen now use money ‘to buy
shirts and soap’, cultivators’ children ‘learn to read in rural schools’, hereditary
chiefs ‘must account for their administration to the Ministry of the Interior’,
herdsmen ‘make cheese and butter in collective dairies’, cotton is woven, leather
is cut, wood is worked, ‘but in textile factories, shoe factories and carpenters’
A second example of the co-existence of seeming opposites is the rural –
urban divide. Oliver points out that in 1998 over half of the African population still lived mainly from the land and that ‘of these the majority, and of
women the large majority, still followed a pattern of life not very different from
that of their pre-colonial ancestors’.53 In rural areas, the division of labour
remained that of a typical agrarian society over the centuries, ‘whereby the men
were responsible for clearing, building, herding, hunting and defence, whereas
women hoed, planted, harvested, cooked, carried water and went to market’.54
But, at the same time, the period since independence has seen an enormous
growth in urbanisation, with its totally different demands on men and women,
and on their relationships. For Muslims, with their distinctive concepts of space
and separation between the sexes, life in cramped modern urban accommodation presents particular problems. All these issues find expression in contemporary African cinema, both as debates to be pursued thematically in a film and
as shaping factors in film narrative. The depiction of time, for example, is very
distinctive in those African films which respond creatively to the lived, everyday fact that modernity and tradition are not successive temporal states, but
co-existing and inter-related contemporary situations.
Urban growth which was already underway in the Maghreb under French
colonisation, when the coastal towns became ever more important centres
for international trade, has continued unabated since independence. Thus
Casablanca, a small medina of 20,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the
French protectorate in 1912, had grown to a city of over 2.8 million by 1994,
and was closely followed by Algiers (2.4 million), Tunis (2 million) and Rabat
(1.2 million).55 Similar growth has occurred south of the Sahara. During the
colonial era, as Oliver points out, a typical capital had just 50,000 inhabitants,
and probably half of these were domestic servants.56 But since independence the
rate of urbanisation has been staggering. The population of Sub-Saharan Africa
tripled in the latter half of the twentieth century, but the numbers living in
towns increased ninefold. While in 1940, scarcely 10 per cent of Africans were
town dwellers,57 now over half the population of the Maghreb lives in towns,58
and that figure is expected to be reached in the rest of Africa by 2010.59 African
cinema tends on the whole to be a cinema of urban problems, and when rural
issues are discussed, it is usually in relation to the lure and influence of city life.
But urban existence itself is not usually depicted as exclusively modern, but
rather as deeply impregnated with traditional values brought in from the countryside by the floods of new migrants. Within the towns there is that juxtaposition of opposites, dating from the colonial period and well characterised by
Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth: ‘This world divided into compartments, this world cut into two is inhabited by two different species. The
originality of the colonial context is that economic reality, inequality and the
immense difference of ways of life never come to mask the human realities’.60
In terms of urban life, this inequality is clearly visible:
The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers . . . The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easy-going
town; its belly is always full of good things. The settler’s town is a town
of white people, of foreigners . . . The native town is a crouching village,
starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a
crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is
a town of niggers and dirty arabs.61
With independence most of the settlers have vanished, but the social inequalities remain, with the former white settlements now inhabited by the new native
ruling elite. This contrast – together with its implications – forms the subject
matter for the short film by Ousmane Sembene with which Sub-Saharan
African cinema can arguably be said to begin: Borom Sarret (1963).
The contrast in two modes of life within the same town is most evident in
the Maghreb, which had a higher degree of urbanisation before colonisation
and where the traditional Arab medinas, largely unchanged since the Middle
Ages, still exist, though now surrounded by modern urban settlements. To
enter the medina is to go back in time, to a world with a labyrinth of streets
and cul-de-sacs too narrow for modern transport, anonymous shop fronts
and windowless house exteriors, and with the souks (or markets) arranged
in hierarchical order in relation to the mosque, which forms the central
feature of any medina. The medina is a timeless world with none of the
marks of modernity: no cars, no telephone kiosks, no modern street furniture, no lighted shop windows, no post offices or banks. The Moroccan
director Mohamed Abderrahmane Tazi makes witty use of this disparity in
his comedy Looking for My Wife’s Husband/A la recherche du mari de ma
femme, where the medina interiors are furnished as they would have been in
the 1970s, while the wider urban scenes show life as it was when the film was
shot (in 1993). The medina features in much Maghrebian cinema as a focal
point of contemporary contradiction or the locus of nostalgia for lost or
threatened values.
African societies have coped surprisingly well with the rural exodus and with
these enormous changes and contradictions. Taking perhaps an unduly optimistic view, Oliver argues that urban migration ‘was not seen as flight, but as
a life-enhancing progression’,62 undertaken initially by young men in search of
a better life. What is certainly true is that the social gaps between town and
countryside, which might be expected to have opened up, have not occurred.
When settled in the town, the young men did not cut off their links with their
home villages, ‘they returned for holidays, to help with the harvest, to woo their
brides and, at last, to retire. They sent money to their rural relatives, and they
provided temporary accommodation in town for those seeking to follow their
example’.63 The journey – from countryside to the big city or from urban
sophistication to the purifying atmosphere of traditional life – is a key motif in
African cinema.
Perhaps the ability of Africans to cope with such a dual existence stems from
the fact that, long before the advent of the colonisers, Africans were accustomed
to plural identities in a form of social organisation for which the Western term
‘tribe’ (often pejoratively used) is a gross oversimplification. The notion of the
‘tribe’ is just one example of the widespread colonial practice of ‘the invention
of tradition in colonial Africa’, so excellently chronicled by Terence Ranger.
Traditional societies ‘had certainly valued custom and continuity, but custom
was loosely defined and infinitely flexible. Custom helped to maintain a sense of
identity, but it also allowed for an adaptation so spontaneous and natural that
it was often unperceived’.64 Recent studies of nineteenth-century pre-colonial
Africa have emphasised that
far from there being a single ‘tribal’ identity, most Africans moved in and
out of multiple identities, defining themselves at one moment as subject
to this chief, at another as a member of that cult, at another moment as a
part of that clan, and at yet another moment as an initiate of that professional guild.65
This same situation persists in postcolonial society which, Achille Mbembe
notes, ‘is made not of one coherent “public space”, nor is it determined by any
single organising principle’.66 Instead we find ‘a plurality of “spheres” and
areas, each having its own separate logic yet nonetheless liable to be entangled
with other logics when operating in certain specific contexts’.67 As a result, the
individual (what Mbembe terms ‘the postcolonial “subject” ’) ‘mobilises not
just a single “identity”, but several fluid identities which, by their very nature,
must be constantly “revised” in order to achieve maximum instrumentality and
efficacity as and when required’.68
In his study of Islamic society, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East,
Bernard Lewis notes that ‘the primary identities are those acquired at birth’: by
blood (family, clan, tribe), by place (village, neighbourhood, district, quarter,
province or city) and by religion.69 In this connection it is worth noting two
observations made by Jolayemi Solanke about contemporary Africa as a whole.
For Solanke, ‘the key concept in understanding African social organisation is that
of the corporate group. Every individual belongs to several overlapping groups
which provide the frame of reference for his daily life’.70 This has important
implications for the way in which Africans see themselves as individuals. Social
control within African society is based on the individual as part of a corporate
group: ‘The perception of belonging to a group – whether family, age-grade,
village, clan or nation – is almost always paramount of a sense of individuality.
One acts as a member of a group and is responsible to that group’.71
For those Africans who live in Islamic societies, the relationship between the
individual and the collectivity is even more complex and in many ways yet
further removed from that which is to be found in hierarchically organised
(‘pyramidal’) Western societies. Fuad I. Khuri points out that in Arab ideology,
‘reality is perceived as a series of non-pyramidal structures, a matrix composed
of discrete units inherently equal in value’.72 Three ‘principles of action and
organisation’ follow from a non-pyramidal image of reality, namely, the vulnerability of isolation, the need to seek protection in groups, and the importance of tactics, rather than status.73 The individual has, therefore, a very
distinctive role in Arab culture: ‘caught between “the fear of being alone”, on
the one hand, and the drive to be “first among equals”, an imam or emir, on
the other’.74 Success in social terms, becoming first among equals, means building a group around yourself, so that you will never be left alone. The only viable
alternative for the individual unable to do this is to join the group for which
kinship makes him eligible, because ‘the isolated are vulnerable’.75 In the Arab
world, Khuri argues, ‘the strategy is to act in groups’.76
There are clear differences in emphasis between Khuri’s arguments about
acquiring power and those of Solanke about achieving social inclusion. But
what is crucial is that Africans – whether Muslims or not – do not define themselves as notionally free individuals responsible ultimately only to themselves,
which is the way that Westerners have operated for centuries. This is reflected
in the narrative structures and the shaping of protagonists of African cinema,
as it is in much African literature. As Tunisian film theorist Tahar Cheriaa has
noted, in African films ‘the individual is always pushed into the background,
and the hero – African films are rich in characters in the classic sense – never
occupies the foreground. The principal character in African films is always the
group, the collectivity, and that is the essential thing’.77
1. Émile Mworoha and Bernard Nantet, ‘Des raisons d’espérer’, in Rémy Bazenguissa
and Bernard Nantet (eds), L’Afrique: Mythes et réalités d’un continent (Paris: Le
Cherche Midi Éditeur, 1995), p. 193.
2. Shatto Arthur Gakwandi, The Novel and Contemporary Experience in Africa
(London, Lusaka, Ibadan and Nairobi: Heinemann, 1977), p. 1.
3. Roland Oliver, The African Experience (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999),
p. 259.
4. Ibid.
5. Richard W. Hull, Modern Africa: Change and Continuity (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1980), p. 243.
6. Ibid., p. 189.
7. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread
of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1991, revised edition), pp. 6–7.
8. Ibid., p. 7.
9. Donal B. Cruise O’Brien and Richard Rathbone, ‘Introduction’, in Donal B. Cruise
O’Brien, John Dunn and Richard Rathbone (eds), Contemporary West African
States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 2.
10. Basil Davidson, The Search for Africa (London: James Currey, 1994), p. 254.
11. Ibid.
12. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967),
pp. 166–99.
13. I have discussed ‘national culture’ in Roy Armes, Third World Filmmaking and the
West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), pp. 24–8.
14. Oliver, The African Experience, p. 277.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid., p. 278.
17. Ibid.
18. Hull, Modern Africa, p. 192.
19. Oliver, The African Experience, p. 302.
20. Cited in John Reader, Africa: A Biography of the Continent (Harmondsworth:
Penguin Books, 1998), p. 627.
21. Reader, Africa, p. 627.
22. Ibid.
23. Hull, Modern Africa, p. 184.
24. Donal B. Cruise O’Brien, Symbolic Confrontations: Muslims Imagining the State in
Africa (London: Hurst & Co., 2003), pp. 142–3.
25. Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (London: Souvenir Press, 1974),
p. 106.
26. Ibid., pp. 104–5.
27. Ibid., p. 107.
28. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London: Bogle-L’Ouverture,
1972), p. 116.
29. Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (London: Vintage, 2001), p. 16.
30. Ibid., pp. 16–7.
31. Denise Brahimi, Cinémas d’Afrique francophone et du Maghreb (Paris: Nathan,
1997), p. 7.
32. Jacqueline Kaye, Maghreb: New Writing from North Africa (York: Talus Editions,
1992), p. 5.
33. Ibid., p. 6.
34. Cruise O’Brien, Symbolic Confrontations, p. 15.
35. Mongo Beti, cited in Richard Bjornson, The African Quest for Freedom and
Identity: Cameroonian Writing and the National Experience (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 329.
36. Cf. Jacqueline Kaye and Abdelhamid Zoubir, The Ambiguous Compromise:
Language, Literature and Identity in Algeria and Morocco (London and New York:
Routledge, 1990).
37. Oliver, The African Experience, p. 305.
38. Jacques Maquet, Civilisations of Black Africa (New York: Oxford University Press,
1972), p. 17.
39. Ibid.
40. David Robinson, Muslim Societies in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2004), p. 27.
41. Ibid., p. 39.
42. Ibid., p. 42.
43. Ibid.
44. Hull, Modern Africa, p. 233.
45. Cruise O’Brien, Symbolic Confrontations, p. 178.
46. Ibid.
47. Nicholas Awde and Putros Samano, The Arabic Language (London: Saqi Books,
1986), p. 14.
48. Ibid.
49. Viola Shafik, Arab Cinema (Cairo: The University of Cairo Press, 1998), p. 83.
50. Kenneth W. Harrow (ed.), The Marabout and the Muse: New Approaches to Islam
in African Fiction (Portsmouth, NH and London: Heinemann and James Curry,
1996), p. xxiii.
51. Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, cited in Michel Amarger, M’Bissine Diop and Catherine
Ruelle, ‘Islam, croyances et négritude dans les cinémas d’Afrique’, Paris: Africultures
47 (2002), p. 11.
52. Maquet, Civilisations, p. 171.
53. Oliver, The African Experience, p. 304.
54. Ibid., p. 303.
55. Jean François Troin, Maghreb Moyen-Orient: Mutations (Paris: Sedes, 1995),
p. 217.
56. Oliver, The African Experience, p. 283.
57. Roland Pourtier, Villes Africaines (Paris: La Documentation Française, 1999), p. 1.
Troin, Maghreb-Moyen Orient, p. 218.
Oliver, The African Experience, p. 304.
Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 30.
Oliver, The African Experience, p. 283.
Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 247.
Ibid., p. 248.
Achille Mbembe, cited in Richard Werbner and Terence Ranger (eds), Postcolonial
Identities in Africa (London: Zed Books, 1996), p. 1.
Bernard Lewis, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (London: Weidenfeld and
Nicolson, 1998), p. 4.
Jolayemi Solanke, ‘Traditional Society and Political Institutions’, in Richard
Olaniyan (ed.), African History and Culture (Lagos: Longman, 1982), p. 27.
Ibid., p. 28.
Fuad I. Khuri, Tents and Pyramids: Games and Ideology in Arab Culture from
Backgammon to Autocratic Rule (London: Saqi Books, 1990), p. 11.
Ibid., p. 11.
Ibid., p. 14.
Ibid., p. 13.
Ibid., p. 11.
Tahar Cheriaa, ‘Le Groupe et le héros’, in CESCA, Camera nigra: Le Discours du
film africain (Brussels: OCIC, 1984), p. 109.
If we are to address questions of the history and culture of nationhood,
the particular form taken by the intersection of contemporary history,
culture and politics which manifestly is a crucial question for the recent
experiences of most of the world’s population, we ought similarly to consider not what ‘identity’ is . . . but how actual, specific, socially and historically located people, and groups of people, themselves articulate their
self-conceptions, their historical experience and their place in society.
James McDougal1
North Africa has given us better wines than we could have imagined. I see
no reason why she should not, tomorrow, give us the best French films.2
French actor Harry Baur, 1937
Colonial Cinema
The cinema reached Africa at much the same time as it spread across Europe
and the United States. There were film shows in Cairo and Alexandria as early
as 1896, in Tunis and Fez in 1897, Dakar in 1900 and Lagos in 1903. The initial
impulse behind this worldwide spread was purely commercial: the desire to
exploit to the full the commercial potential of what its inventors, like the
Lumière Brothers, feared might be just a passing novelty. But as film narrative
developed in length and complexity, the export of film took on a new significance. As Ferid Boughedir has observed: ‘Cinema reached Africa with colonialism. Its principal role was to supply a cultural and ideological justification
for political domination and economic exploitation’.3 In many ways cinema
succeeded in this role: ‘A native worker performs better when he believes that
the representatives of colonial power are his betters by race, and that his own
civilisation is inferior to that of the whites’.4
Little one-minute films were also shot in Africa at the turn of the century, as
the Lumière operators made a habit of shooting local ‘views’ (a comparatively
simple procedure since Lumière’s cinematograph was both camera and projector combined).The aim was both to increase the attractiveness of the
Lumières’ local screenings and to provide films for subsequent worldwide distribution. The Lumière catalogue of 1905 contains over fifty such views shot in
North Africa. One of Lumière’s leading operators, whose career is of particular interest, is Alexandre Promio (1868–1926). He shot little scenes in Algiers
and Tlemcen as early as 1896, and worked in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt in
1897, returning to North Africa once more in 1903. Promio, who discovered
the East on his first trip to Algeria, remained fascinated by it, but, as JeanClaude Seguin notes, his gaze ‘may be subtle, but it is nonetheless obviously orientalist’.5 Promio went on in 1912 to work for the film and photographic
service of the French government in Algiers, where he stayed for twelve years.
Seguin sees a continuity in his thirty-year career, which can serve as an exemplar for the development and use of cinema in colonial Africa as a whole in the
early years of the twentieth century. Working for the Lumière company for ten
years, Promio ‘had explored the planet to reveal its comical, surprising or
simply exotic aspects’. For the French administration he had subsequently
‘journeyed across the colony, travelling in the service of the vast propaganda
project inspired by the French authorities’.6
The arrival in Tunisia in 1919 of the director Luitz-Morat – a former stage
partner of Sarah Bernhardt in La Dame aux camélias and of Réjane in Madame
Sans-gêne – to shoot scenes for his feature film The Five Cursed Gentlemen/Les
Cinq gentlemen maudits, 7 marked a new stage in the exploitation of the African
colonies, namely their use as locations for foreign feature films. Of the handful
of films set in West Africa, most – such as Léon Poirier’s Brazza or The Epic of
the Congo/Brazza ou l’épopée du Congo (1939) and Jacques de Baroncelli’s The
Man of the Niger/L’Homme du Niger (1939) – dealt with the French colonial
experience in West Africa seen through the eyes of a heroic European protagonist. The tone of the latter film – and its ideological message – is clear from a
1940s French review:
Thus, as you see, French cinema during recent years has done its utmost
to show the true face of Africa and the true face too of France in the
African domain. Through this magic lantern, the world has been able to
perceive that France has accomplished the remarkable feat of making
itself loved like a mother in its colonies, because everywhere and always
it has shown itself to be just and humane.8
The overwhelming bulk of the colonial films were, however, set in North
Africa. Even the Pierre Loti novel The Novel of a Colonial Soldier/Roman d’un
spahi, which is set in Senegal, was filmed in 1935 by Michel Bernheim with the
location changed to Southern Morocco. A mythical North Africa became the
location for a succession of notable films. As David Henry Slavin observes,
‘colonial films are melodramas, simple stories of individual lives and loves. But
they are suffused with racial and gender privilege’.9 In comparison with other
mainstream European and Hollywood films, they also contain a very high proportion of tales of defeat. The flavour of this cinema is excellently captured by
Dina Sherzer. The colonies are presented as ‘territories waiting for European
initiatives, virgin land where the White man with helmet and boots regenerated
himself or was destroyed by alcoholism, malaria, or native women’. The films
‘displayed the heroism of French men, along with stereotypical images of
desert, dunes and camels, and reinforced the idea that the Other is dangerous’.
But what is most remarkable about this body of films is what they omitted:
‘They did not present the colonial experience, did not attach importance to
colonial issues, and were amazingly silent on what happened in reality’. In this
way they ‘contributed to the colonial spirit and temperament of conquest and
to the construction of White identity and hegemony’.10 Common to all such
colonial melodramas is a single ideology, well defined, from a South African
viewpoint, by Keyan Tomaselli five years before the advent of black rule:
For Africa as a whole, cinema has always been a powerful weapon
deployed by colonial nations to maintain their respective spheres of political and economic influence. History is distorted and a Western view of
Africa continues to be transmitted back to the colonized. Apart from the
obvious monetary returns for the production companies themselves, the
values Western cinema imparts and the ideologies it legitimates are beneficial for western cultural, financial, and political hegemony.11
Pépé le Moko (1936) is the archetypal French colonial film, though very little
of the film was actually shot in North Africa – the Casbah was reconstructed
by designer Jacques Krauss at the Joinville studios in Paris. Made by Julien
Duvivier, one of French cinema’s most successful technicians who was then at
the height of his powers, the film tells of the doomed love of the Parisian jewel
thief Pépé le Moko (played by Jean Gabin), who has taken refuge in the casbah,
and Gaby (Mireille Balin), a high-class prostitute (poule de luxe), who is visiting Algiers with her rich champagne-merchant lover. Though Pépé is aware that
he will be arrested if he leaves the Casbah, he nonetheless tries to accompany
Gaby when she leaves. Captured and handcuffed, he stabs himself on the dockside, as the unsuspecting Gaby sails away.
Like most colonial films, this is a purely European drama, to which the inhabitants of Algiers (and to a considerable extent the setting itself) are irrelevant.
What is very striking from a present-day standpoint is the handling of the
setting and the Arab characters. When the local French police chief, Slimane,
describes the Casbah, he mentions nine national or racial types as making up
the Casbah’s 40,000 inhabitants, but the word ‘Arab’ does not occur. There are,
as most commentators on the film have noted, no Arabs in the Casbah! Slimane
is stereotyped as a wily and treacherous oriental, detested by his French superiors, and Pépé’s girlfriend Inès (French actress Line Noro) is depicted not as an
Arab, but as a gypsy, complete with dark make-up, black frizzy hair and large
earrings. As the Algerian critic Abdelghani Megherbi notes, ‘Duvivier did not
think it worthwhile to give even the slightest role to Algerians. The latter, as
was the custom, formed an integral part of the decor on which colonial cinema
fed so abundantly’.12 The sole Arab name in the credits is that of Mohamed
Iguerbouchen, who supplied the ‘oriental’ music to supplement Vincent Scotto’s
effective but fundamentally Western score.
The only pioneer filmmaker to work independently in either the Maghreb or
West Africa under colonialism was the Tunisian Albert Samama Chikly
(1872–1934), a remarkable figure in every respect to be a pioneer of Arab and
African cinema. For one thing Chikly was a Jew, son of the Bey of Tunis’s
banker, who had acquired French citizenship. Chikly’s Italian wife and his only
child, his daughter Haydée, both converted to Islam, and there can be no doubt
about his personal sense of his Tunisian identity. But after running away to sea
as a teenager, Chikly remained fascinated with the West and its technology. He
was one of the first Tunisians to own a bicycle, which he used to explore the
Tunisian South. He then set up the first X-ray laboratory in Tunis and imported
radio equipment within a few months of Marconi’s invention becoming known
and while it was still an experimental technology. As an active photographer,
he was inevitably fascinated by the Lumières’ invention of the cinematograph
in 1895, and his daughter Haydée claims he organised a first film show in Tunis
in 1896. Certainly, he and a fellow photographer, Soler, organised public tenminute screenings for a week or so in 1897, to great acclaim according to his
nephew Raoul Darmon: ‘Every showing was greeted with acclamation by the
audience and the enthusiasm was such that when the programme finished, half
the audience regularly refused to leave and paid for a second screening’.13
Ever the enthusiast, Chikly explored underwater photography in a submarine designed by the vicar of Carthage, the abbé Raoul, and aerial photography
in collaboration with the aeronaut Valère Lecomte. He also attached his camera
to both a microscope and a telescope. Continuing to use both his still and movie
cameras, Chikly became a reporter, recording local issues for Paris newspapers
and the Gaumont newsreels, and then embarking on a filmic documentation of
all aspects of Tunisia. As Guillemette Mansour notes, his photographs are not
orientalist compositions, but works that display ‘an acute sense for framing an
image and a remarkable mastery of light’.14 His first experience as war reporter
came when he filmed and reported on the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911,
from the Turkish side. When the First World War began, Chikly became one of
the dozen cameramen employed by the French Army film service (along with
Abel Gance – future creator of Napoléon – and Louis Feuillade – author-to-be
of the Fantômas and Judex series), filming at the front at Verdun in 1916. His
services, in a war in which 10,000 Tunisian volunteers and conscripts died in
the trenches, earned him the Military Medal.
The extensive use of North African locations by French filmmakers began
soon after the end of the First World War, and Chikly served as cameramen for
one of these films, Tales of the Arabian Nights/Les Contes des mille et une nuits
(1922) directed by the Russian émigré Victor Tourjansky. The same year Chikly
directed his own first fictional film, Zohra, scripted by and starring his daughter Haydée. This short film tells the story of a young French woman shipwrecked on the coast of Tunisia and rescued by Bedouin tribesmen, with whom
she lives for a while. Captured by bandits while travelling in a caravan taking
her to a French settlement, she is again rescued, this time by a dashing French
aviator, and restored to her parents. This simple tale reflects two of Chikly’s
passions, Bedouin life and aviation, and Haydée’s performance earned her a
part in Rex Ingram’s The Arab (1924), which starred Ramon Navarro.
Chikly’s second, feature-length, film, The Girl from Carthage/La Fille de
Carthage/Aïn El-Ghazel (1924), was also scripted by Haydée who again took
the leading role and also edited the film. If Zohra was, as Guillemette Mansour
observes, ‘a semi-documentary’,15 The Girl from Carthage is the full fictional
story of a young woman, under pressure to marry her father’s choice of
husband (a rich and brutal landowner), who runs away to the desert and is followed by the gentle young teacher she loves. When he is killed by their pursuers, she stabs herself and falls dead across his body. Chikly’s personal friend,
the Bey of Tunis, provided extras, allowed the use of one of his palaces, and
even visited the shooting on several occasions. The film’s theme of forced marriage and the use of a female protagonist (together with the particularly important role in the production played by Haydée Chikly) make The Girl from
Carthage a fascinating precursor of the kind of Tunisian cinema which would
come into being over forty years later.
Chikly refused to allow his daughter Haydée (later Haydée Tamzali) to take
up Rex Ingram’s invitation to Hollywood (she was a teenager, taking her baccalaureate at the time), so her film career effectively ended with The Girl from
Carthage, though she did appear, in old age, in Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s
documentary about her father and in Ferid Boughedir’s feature film One
Summer in La Goulette/Un été à La Goulette. Since large portions of both his
films are preserved, Chikly’s own place in film history – anticipating the first
Egyptian-made feature by three years – is assured. But, like so many film pioneers, he was to die in poverty, succumbing in 1934 to lung cancer contracted
at the front in a gas attack during the First World War and aggravated by his
South Africa
At the time of independence in the Maghreb and French colonial Africa – when
the new African cinemas were about to come into being – there were only two
film industries in Africa. One of these – that located in South Africa – could
obviously be of no relevance, despite the state subsidy scheme established in
1956 and the existence of 1,300 or so feature films produced there between
1910 and 1996,17 since it was a white cinema constructed for a white audience.
Writing in 1989, Keyan Tomaselli notes the strategic ideological importance of
South African cinema: ‘Repression has to be legitimised in some way, and
cinema has historically played an important role in presenting apartheid as a
natural way of life’.18 South African cinema during the apartheid era continued
the traditional role of cinema in colonial societies. Though South Africa’s filmmakers ‘feel that their films lie outside politics, that they are merely entertainment’, Tomaselli argues that the films in fact serve the state through ‘their class
position, their underlying social and cinematic assumptions’, as well as ‘their
displacement of actual conditions by imaginary relations which delineate an
apartheid view of the world’.19
In the one of the first comprehensive surveys of African filmmaking – Guy
Hennebelle’s Les Cinémas africains en 1972 – the white Zimbabwean (at that
time, before independence, Rhodesian) filmmaker Michael Raeburn gave an
interesting introduction to South African cinema, pointing out that these films
are ‘made by whites, for whites. The financing of this production is made possible by the extremely high standard of living of the white minority privileged
by shameful racial laws’.20 Raeburn characterises the 100 feature films shot
since 1945 as ‘just pale imitations of Anglo-American archetypes’,21 noting
a striking resemblance to Western colonial cinema: ‘in the white films, the nonwhites are only extras. If the script requires a non-white to talk to or touch
a white, the role has to be played by a blacked-up white’.22
The one South African feature film to become an international success was The
Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), made by one of South Africa’s leading directors,
Jamie (Jacobus Johannes) Uys. A former school teacher, Uys had been active as
a film director for thirty years and was to be awarded South Africa’s highest civil
award, the Order of Merit, for services to the film industry, in 1983.23 On the
surface, the film – known in France as Les Dieux sont tombés sur la tête – is
simply a very amusing comedy about a bushman, !Ky, who sets out to return an
empty Coke bottle which he thinks is a gift from the gods. The other plot strand
concerns a white scientist (whose speciality is elephant dung), who involves !Ky
in his effort to help save a white school teacher who has been kidnapped – along
with her class of black schoolchildren – by a black guerrilla leader. Though the
film is seemingly innocuous, poking fun at blacks and whites alike, it is in fact,
as the English documentary filmmaker Peter Davis demonstrates, ‘impregnated
with the spirit of apartheid’.24 The film masquerades as a Botswanan production,
but the ‘Botswana’ where the bushmen lead their idyllic life in no way resembles
the real landlocked republic of the same name. Significantly, the film could not
have been set in South Africa, since there the pass laws restricting the movement
of blacks would have rendered its plot impossible. The commentary accompanying the opening travelogue is highly condescending, and the name of the
black guerrilla villain, Sam Boca, has curious connotations, since the sambok is
the leather whip regularly used by white South African police to disperse black
demonstrations. The name also recalls that of Sam Nujoma, leader of the
SWAPO liberation movement in neighbouring Namibia, and indeed the film has
disturbing echoes of the actual political situation there, since the South African
authorities had enlisted the bushmen in their fight against SWAPO.25 Davis concludes that, whatever his intentions, Uys has created ‘an imaginary country
which the architects of apartheid would like us to believe in, a South Africa wellintentioned to all’.26 If the plot is read metaphorically, it shows that ‘the blacks
are like children led astray by agitators coming from outside (the black liberation
forces). But they are not the only ones under threat: the white race, personified
by the heroine, is also threatened too’.27
The Gods Must Be Crazy embodies a particular moment in African history.
Three years later (though still nine years before the end of apartheid in 1994),
the filmmaker John van Zyl could already look towards the emergence of a very
different South African cinema, which would relate more closely to developments elsewhere in the continent, a cinema ‘whose vigour and inspiration will
have to come from the same roots as the vigour and inspiration of its theatre’.
He recognises that ‘the real industry of the future will be a predominantly black
one, and will link itself to the energy of other Third World film industries’.28
There were indeed interesting co-production links with West African filmmakers (Souleymane Cisse, Idrissa Ouedraogo and Jean-Pierre Bekolo) in the mid1990s, and by the beginning of the new millennium, some steps at least had
been taken to transform South African cinema itself.29
The second African film industry in existence at the time of independence in the
Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa was that in Egypt, which also had a very different political and economic history from that of its neighbours. Notionally
independent since 1922 – though with British dominance persisting from 1882
until the 1952 military coup against King Farouk – Egypt had a history of industrial development going back to the early part of the nineteenth century, when,
as Tom Kemp points out, Mohamed Ali ‘initiated a state programme, designed
to strengthen the economy of his country, not unlike that of Peter the Great in
Russia a century before’. For various reasons, not least the Anglo-Turkish Treaty
of 1838 which insisted on the ending of state monopolies, Mohamed Ali’s
project failed and ‘for the rest of the nineteenth century Egypt became a primaryexporting, predominantly agricultural country’. But with the attempts at industrialisation came – for the élite at least – a growing sense of national identity.
Fresh attempts at modernisation were made in the twentieth century when ‘some
import-substitution industries were established’, the trend being ‘assisted by the
two world wars and the slump in export prices during the 1930s’.30
This was the context in which Egyptian cinema came into being. Initially,
developments were the work of isolated pioneers, many belonging to Cairo’s
thriving expatriate communities. As Kristina Bergmann puts it, ‘at first financed
by Lebanese and Greeks, shot by Italians, designed and acted by the French,
films then became Egyptian’.31 The key date was the founding of the Misr
Studios in 1935, after which Egyptian cinema became a genuine film industry,
capable of producing a dozen films in 1935 and building continuously so as to
reach over forty a year by 1945. The vision and drive behind this development
was that of Talaat Harb, director of Bank Misr, who envisaged a company
‘capable of making Egyptian films with Egyptian subjects, Egyptian literature
and Egyptian aesthetics, worthwhile films that can be shown in our own
country and in the neighbouring countries of the East’.32 Since Bank Misr was
the leading Egyptian bank, the film industry was at the heart of the development of Egyptian capitalism. As Patrick Clawson has explained, ‘Bank Misr
was established precisely to foster local industry . . . Through such firms as one
of the world’s largest textile mills, printing presses, button factories, linenspinning mills, Bank Misr dominated the entire Egyptian economy until its
nationalisation in 1960.33 The film industry itself was nationalised, to become
the General Organisation of Egyptian Cinema, a year later.
In her foreword to a volume celebrating 100 years of Egyptian cinema,
Magda Wassef notes the existence of 3,000 fictional feature films with which
millions of Arabs could identify: ‘several dozen unforgettable titles, some outstanding filmmakers and, above all, an impact that exceeds the aim fixed at the
outset: “entertainment”.’34 Through its stars and singers, Egyptian cinema
became ‘an object of Arab desire and pride. Through it they feel reconciled with
their identity, ridiculed and crushed by the destructive and often castrating colonial presence’.35 Egypt’s dominant genre, the melodrama, is worth considering
briefly, not because of its direct influence on post-independence filmmakers elsewhere in Africa, which was virtually nil, but as a fascinating contrast to the
European colonial film, and as another kind of baseline against which the particular approaches of the post-independence filmmakers north and south of the
Sahara can be assessed. It is the form through which all future Arab filmmakers discovered cinema as children.
Three basic features of melodrama are common to both the Egyptian film and
the European or Hollywood colonial feature. The first is the focus on emotional
intensity and calamitous events to which, from an Egyptian perspective, Ali Abu
Shadi draws attention. Plots are ‘marked by the sudden movement between
highly exaggerated situations in which coincidence plays a major role’, and melodramatic style ‘uses emotionalism in the writing and the directing and exploits
any device to manipulate the feelings of the audience’.36 The second element
shared with the colonial film is the use of ‘a succession of stereotypes and clichés’,
and characters whose progress and relationships are structured so as to meet the
needs of accessible dramatic patterns.37 The third shared feature is the manichean
world, which Khémais Khayati sees as particularly characteristic of Egyptian
cinema: ‘There is good and evil. There is God and the Devil. Between them no
reconciliation is possible. Values are total and never relative . . . Nothing usurps
the absolute nature of God’.38 There is immense comfort for the audiences – in
the West as much as in the Arab world – in such a black-and-white world of total
certainties. We know how people should behave and can appreciate when the
accepted norms are violated. There is no ambiguity about how the world should
be. The ambiguity for us comes from empathy with characters who transgress,
but it is a comfortable ambiguity, because we know that they will, in the end,
have to face up to the consequences of their actions.
The key difference between Egyptian melodrama and the colonial film,
whether European or Hollywood, lies in the treatment of character. In Egyptian
cinema, as Ali Abu Shadi demonstrates, the characters ‘do not change or grow
emotionally, and the lines between good and evil are clearly demarcated. There
is a relative absence of human will, with fate determining the outcome of
events’.39 This view is supported by Abbas Fadhil Ibrahim in his analysis of
three melodramas from the years 1959–60: ‘Fatality, fate and chance make and
undo the happiness and misfortune of the characters. Accidents, incidents and
slips multiply, modifying the course of their lives’.40 According to Khayati, in
Arab-Muslim culture, ‘the submission of the individual is complete and the allegiance of the community to God is total. Every revolt against the community is
a revolt against God. And every revolt against God is an assault on the
immutable order of the world and, for this reason, merits punishment’.41
This is, of course, the very opposite of the Western ideology underlying
Hollywood and European films, colonial or not, where the key assumption
about characters is that they are individuals, able to make choices as the basis
for action. Whatever the pressures or dangers, these choices are ultimately
freely made by the individual, and cannot be blamed on background, family
upbringing, heredity, social or economic pressures, and certainly not on fate. In
contrast Egyptian tradition-based drama is ‘a drama of fatality and happy
endings, a drama which does not know the anguish of free choice and which
works in blocks and never by nuances’.42
The ideological differences between Egyptian and Hollywood melodrama
result in a very different sense of temporality and plot structure. Sayed Saïd
argues that in Egyptian melodramas ‘the time measured by the calendar’ is
drowned out by ‘everything which is linked to the past: lessons, meanings,
values, traditions, ideas, illusions, even myths’.43 In the Western film, by contrast, time moves swiftly forward and, in conventional Hollywood cinema at
least, the final part of a film is a veritable rush towards closure. In contrast, ‘the
future is almost absent from Egyptian cinema and the exceptions can be
counted on the fingers of one hand. As for an optimistic vision of the future,
that is even rarer’.44. This difference in temporality – Egyptian cinema locked
immutably in the past, Western cinema looking relentlessly forward – is
reflected in a very different notion of identity. In Egyptian cinema, as defined
by Saïd, the national Self is ‘implicitly defined by a whole series of urban and
rural traditions under threat’ while the Other ‘is the source of all evil, the source
of all threats’. According to Saïd, ‘you cannot understand meanings in Egyptian
cinema without locating the struggle with Western cultures and civilisations’.
The struggle with the colonialist Other ‘is not just one of the subjects dealt with
by cinema. It is its principal background’.45
A perfect example of the Egyptian approach to melodrama is Henry Barakat’s
The Sin/Al-haram, produced by the General Organisation for Egyptian Cinema
in 1965. The Sin is widely regarded as the prolific Cairo-born director’s best
work, and it figures in at least one list of the ten best Arab films of all time.46
Adapted from a novel by Youssef Idriss, the film deals with the sufferings of
migrant farm workers, whose lives are precarious, since they are hired only by
the day at crucial seasons of the year and forced to work far from their homes.
Though filmed on location and including many villagers in its cast, the film’s
stance is far from that of the Italian neorealists. The subject is softened and sentimentalised, the action is set safely back in 1950 (the Farouk era) and, in the
central role, Faten Hamama gives a glittering star performance. What is fascinating is the way in which the film shapes its story of a woman who inadvertently
kills her own newborn child, so that while its personal emotional impact is maintained, it is, at the same time, swallowed up, as it were, in the eternal, unchanging life of the peasantry. The Sin brings together all the key elements of Egyptian
melodrama: a circular narrative structure using a long central flashback through
which the past weighs down upon the present, a pattern of images and music
that enhances the audience’s emotional response, a protagonist who suffers but
lacks any individual responsibility for what happens to her, an overall sense of
unchallengeable fatality, and the portrayal of an unchanging traditional community which is barely touched by the ripple of personal tragedy.
The final potential model of pre-independence filmmaking in Africa is to be
found during the bitter Algerian war for independence (1954–62), when 16mm
militant film was used as part of the liberation struggle. As the Algerian sociologist Mouny Berrah notes, ‘from 1957–1962, Algerian cinema was a site of
solidarity, exchange and expression between members of the Algerian maquis
and French intellectuals who sympathised with the liberation movement’.47 The
catalyst for this was the French communist documentary filmmaker René
Vautier (born 1928), who had been decorated with the croix de guerre at the
age of sixteen for his resistance activities against the German occupiers in his
native France. But in 1952 he had been imprisoned by the French government
for violating the 1934 Laval law by filming without authorisation in Africa,
where he had made the first French anti-colonialist film, Africa 50/Afrique 50
(1950).48 Vautier had already made an independent short (now lost), One
Nation, Algeria/Une nation, l’Algérie, when he began filming with Algerian
resistance fighters in 1957–8 under the auspices of the National Liberation
Front (FLN) leader Abbane Ramdane. The result was the widely seen twentyfive- minute documentary Algeria in Flames/Algérie en flammes (1959), of
which the technicians in East Germany, where it was edited, made 800 copies.49
Unfortunately for the director, by the time the film was complete, Ramdane had
been murdered in one of the internecine disputes which characterised the FLN,
and Vautier himself was imprisoned by the Algerians, without trial and largely
in solitary confinement, for twenty-five months.
The first film collective which Vautier set up in the Tebessa region in 1957,
the Farid group, comprised a number of Algerians, including the future feature
director Ahmed Rachedi. It aimed ‘to show the methods used by the French
administration and army to deal with the Algerian population’.50 In 1958 the
group was transferred to Tunis, then the base for the leaders of the Algerian
liberation movement, where it became the film service of the Algerian
Republican Provisional Government in exile (GPRA). The GPRA thought the
role of film important enough for it to send another young filmmaker, Mohamed
Lakhdar Hamina, to study film at FAMU in Prague in 1959. Vautier himself,
who was wounded three times in his various frontier crossings into Algeria, set
up a film school, whose pupils made two collective documentaries in 1957–8.
But before the end of the hostilities, four of the five students had been killed.
A number of documentaries were made within the context of the liberation
struggle,51 and, as Mouny Berrah notes, these were all ‘collective and committed films, immediate films devoted to their project with the intention of rehabilitating a self-image deconstructed and devalued by the occupier and arguing
for the justice of a war condemned as “butchery” by the enemy’.52 For the
Algerian film historian Lotfi Maherzi, the films have a double value: recording
the precise reality of the situation in Algeria, and showing the close support
of the Algerian people for the struggle.53 They found an audience not only in
the Arab countries and eastern Europe, but also on Western television, where
they served to counter French propaganda efforts. Though they could not,
of course, be shown at the time in Algeria, Abdelghani Megherbi notes that they
were frequently projected there during the first years of independence.54
In post-independence Algiers, in 1962, Vautier and Rachedi went on to set
up the short-lived audio-visual centre (CAV), in the context of which A People
on the March/Peuple en marche (1963) was made. But their particular form of
committed militant filmmaking had no part to play in the totally bureaucratised mode of film production that emerged in Algeria in the mid-1960s.
Considering the post-liberation career of Ahmed Rachedi, Claude Michel
Cluny notes what he considers a ‘fundamental error’ in Algeria cinema: ‘They
had not worked out what role cinema could play in the elaboration of a new
society; they gave priority to a celebration of past battles, rather than to a militant cinema with a revolutionary vocation’.55 Rachedi, like Lakhdar Hamina,
became both a prominent feature filmmaker and a bureaucrat, and only René
Vautier retained his stance as an independent militant filmmaker (making,
among other committed films, the highly praised Being Twenty in the Aurès
Mountains/Avoir vingt ans dans les Aurès in 1972).
This chapter has set out to show the nature of the varying strands of film production which existed in Africa at the time when post-independence feature
filmmaking was established, in both the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan West
Africa, in the mid-1960s. Foreign producers from Europe and the United States
still use the rural landscapes of the Maghreb as locations for their films and,
though the old colonial ideology no longer prevails, the works produced have
as little relevance as ever to the realities of African life. A number of filmmakers in Morocco and Tunisia have taken the opportunity to gain some experience by working on these foreign features, but only very subordinate roles – as
production managers or assistant directors – are open to them. In any case this
is a form of production beyond their aspirations, since the sheer size of the
financial resources behind international productions such as Lawrence of
Arabia or Raiders of the Lost Ark makes this model of production irrelevant
to indigenous African producers.
The nature of the African industries which emerged in Egypt and South
Africa show clearly how filmmaking is of necessity shaped both by overall
national industrial development and by ideological factors: Islamic beliefs
about morality, social responsibilities and gender relations, on the one hand,
apartheid assertions and assumptions about race, on the other. Both film industries continue with varying degrees of success to face new challenges in a very
different world, confronting the very real threats to freedom of expression
posed by Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, and responding to the equally real
opportunities of shaping a black cinema for a black-governed society in the new
South Africa. But in the absence of the kinds of industrial infrastructures which
were developed in Egypt and South Africa, the models of production developed
there remain largely irrelevant to other African filmmakers north and south of
the Sahara.
Equally, the increasingly autocratic one-party states that emerged after independence throughout Africa made the Vautier model of militant documentary
filmmaking – a perfect example of the ‘third cinema’ advocated by Fernando
Solanas and Octavio Getino and theorised by Teshome H. Gabriel56 – totally
impossible. The situation of post-independence filmmakers instead echoes that
of Samama Chikly in Tunisia in the 1920s, in that they have no option but to
work totally independently but within strict, state-defined limits, finding finance
where they can, working as total creators (producing, directing, scripting) in a
context lacking in technically trained local collaborators. It is to the very different contexts, constraints and opportunities facing the filmmakers of the
Maghreb and francophone Sub-Saharan West Africa that we now turn.
1. James McDougal, ‘Introduction’, in James McDougal (ed.), Nation, Society and
Culture in North Africa, (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003), pp. 2–3.
2. Harry Baur, quoted in Maurice-Robert Bataille and Claude Veillot, Caméras sous
le soleil: Le Cinéma en Afrique du nord (Algiers: 1956), p. 9.
3. Ferid Boughedir, ‘Report and Prospects’, in Enrico Fulchignoni (ed.), Cinema and
Society (Paris: IFTC, 1981), p. 101.
4. Ibid.
5. Jean-Claude Seguin, Alexandre Promio ou les énigmes de la lumière (Paris:
L’Harmattan, 1999), p. 250.
6. Ibid., p. 254.
7. Bataille and Veillot, Caméras sous le soleil, pp. 13–14.
8. Rémy Carrigues, ‘L’Homme du Niger’, in L’Almanach Ciné-Miroir, 1940.
9. David Henry Slavin, Colonial Cinema and Imperial France, 1919–1939 (Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), p. 17.
10. Dina Sherzer, Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives from the French
and Francophone Worlds (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), p. 4.
11. Keyan Tomaselli, The Cinema of Apartheid (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 53.
12. Abdelghani Megherbi, Les Algériens au miroir du cinéma colonial (Algiers: SNED,
1982), p. 247.
13. Cited in Guillemette Mansour, Samama Chikly: Un Tunisien à la rencontre du
XXème siècle (Tunis: Simpact Editions, 2000) (from which most of the information
given here is derived), p. 29.
14. Ibid., p. 64.
15. Ibid., p. 254.
16. Ibid., p. 268.
17. Arnold Shepperson and Keyan G. Tomaselli, ‘Le Cinéma sud-africain après
l’apartheid: La restructuration d’une industrie’, in Samuel Lelièvre (ed.), Cinémas
africains, une oasis dans le désert? (Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 106,
2003), p. 252.
18. Tomaselli, Cinema of Apartheid, p. 11.
19. Ibid., p. 81.
20. Michael Raeburn, ‘Prétoria veut construire un “Hollywood” sud-africain . . .’, in
Guy Hennebelle (ed.), Les Cinémas africains en 1972 (Paris: Société Africaine
d’Edition, 1972), p. 261.
21. Ibid., p. 263.
22. Ibid.
23. Keyan Tomaselli, ‘Le Rôle de la Jamie Uys Film Company dans la culture afrikaner’,
in Keyan Tomaselli (ed.), Le cinéma sud-africain est-il tombé sur la tête? (Paris:
L’Afrique littéraire, 78/CinémAction 39, 1986), p. 26.
24. Peter Davis, ‘Les dieux sont tombés sur la tête, de Jamie Uys: Délices et ambiguités
de la position du missionnaire!’, in Tomaselli (1986), p. 53.
25. Ibid., p. 57.
26. Ibid., p. 56.
27. Ibid., pp. 57–8.
28. John van Zyl, cited in Tomaselli, Cinema of Apartheid, p. 127.
29. See Gibson Boloko, ‘La Situation de l’industrie cinématographique Sud-africaine
(1980–2000)’, in Lelièvre, Cinémas africains, pp. 258–63.
30. Tom Kemp, Industrialization in the Non-Western World (London and New York:
Longman, 1983), p. 189.
31. Kristina Bergmann, Filmkultur und Filmindustrie in Ägypten (Darmstadt:
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1993), p. 6.
32. Samir Farid, ‘Les Six générations du cinéma égyptien’, Paris: Écran 15, 1973, p. 40.
33. Patrick Clawson, ‘The Development of Capitalism in Egypt’ (London: Khamsin 9,
1981), p. 92.
34. Magda Wassef (ed.), Egypte: Cent ans de cinéma (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe,
1995), p. 14.
35. Ibid.
36. Ali Abu Shadi, ‘Genres in Egyptian Cinema’, in Alia Arasoughly (ed.), Screens of
Life: Critical Film Writing from the Arab World (Quebec: World Heritage Press,
1998), p. 85.
37. Khémais Khayati, Cinémas arabes: Topographie d’une image éclatée (Paris and
Montreal: L’Harmattan, 1996), p. 204.
38. Ibid., p. 202.
39. Shadi, ‘Genres’, p. 82.
40. Abbas Fadhil Ibrahim, ‘Trois mélos égyptiens observés à la loupe’, in Mouny
Berrah, Victor Bachy, Mohand Ben Salama and Ferid Boughedir (eds), Cinémas du
Maghreb (Paris: CinémAction 14, 1981), p. 123.
41. Khayati, Cinémas arabes, p. 203
42. Ibid., p. 204.
43. Sayed Saïd, ‘Politique et cinéma’, in Magda Wassef (ed.), Egypte: Cent ans de
cinéma, p. 192.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid., p. 193.
46. Khayati, Cinémas arabes, pp. 77–87.
47. Mouny Berrah, ‘Algerian Cinema and National Identity’, in Arasoughly, Screens of
Life, p. 64.
48. The script of this rarely shown film has been published: René Vautier, Afrique 50
(Paris: Editions Paris Expérimental, 2001).
49. René Vautier, Caméra citroyenne (Rennes: Éditions Apogées, 1998), p. 156.
50. Lotfi Maherzi, Le Cinéma algérien: Institutions, imaginaire, idéologie (Algiers:
SNED, 1980), p. 62.
51. See Mouloud Mimoun (ed.), France-Algérie: Images d’une guerre (Paris: Institut du
Monde Arabe, 1992), pp. 68–71.
52. Mouny Berrah, ‘Histoire et idéologie du cinéma algérien sur la guerre’, in Guy
Hennebelle, Mouny Berrah and Benjamin Stora (eds), La guerre d’Algérie à l’écran
(Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 85, 1997), p. 160.
53. Maherzi, Le cinéma algérien, p. 64.
54. Megherbi, Les Algériens au miroir du cinéma colonial, p. 269.
55. Claude Michel Cluny, Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes (Paris: Sindbad,
1978), p. 264.
56. See Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, ‘Towards a Third Cinema’, in Michael
Chanan (ed.), Twenty-Five Years of the New Latin American Cinema (London:
British Film Institute, 1983), and Teshome H. Gabriel, Third Cinema in the Third
World (Ann Arbour, MI: UMI Research Press, 1982).
The current philosophy of filmmakers is in fact that the state should
sustain production by helping its financing and distribution, but by regularising the market. The state should protect rather than take everything
on board.
Ferid Boughedir, 19871
This study is largely concerned with post-independence filmmaking in four
adjoining areas astride the Sahara, all of which were colonised by the French
up to the end of the 1950s or the beginning of the 1960s. Three of these –
Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia – are independent states, and there is no critical
problem in making general claims about them as unified contexts for filmmaking (though this is not to assume, a priori, that film production there constitutes
a ‘national cinema’). To see the fourth area as a single unit is perhaps more controversial, since it comprises fourteen independent states in francophone West
Africa south of the Sahara, all of which were either former French protectorates
(Cameroon and Togo) or previously formed part of the two French supercolonies, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa (the remaining
twelve). The unifying factor here is that most of the impetus and finance for
filmmaking here has come from France, as part of the French government’s
policy of maintaining close cultural and economic links with its former African
colonies. A further argument, which I hope will be shown to be correct by what
follows, is that there is a unity linking filmmakers north and south of the
Sahara, though these are generally regarded as quite separate worlds by
Western, particularly US, critics. I share with the Tunisian critic Hédi Khelil the
belief that ‘filmmakers from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and
Senegal are very close to each other in the questions they pose and the ways in
which they pose them’.2 Certainly, despite the diversity in history and the ways
in which independence was acquired, filmmaking began in all four areas at the
same time, in the late 1960s, with twenty features in all made between 1965
and 1969.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ousmane Sembene led the way with his Senegalese
features Black Girl/La Noire de . . . (1966) and The Money Order/Le Mandat
(1968), accompanied by one feature from Guinea in 1966 and two from the
Ivory Coast (by the French-based filmmakers Désiré Ecaré and Bassori Timité)
in 1969. During the 1970s, production continued in these three states, and filmmakers from a further eight states produced features: Benin, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Chad and Togo followed belatedly in the 1990s, and Didier Ouenangare co-directed the first
feature film in the Central African Republic in 2003. In the Maghreb, feature
filmmaking began in Algeria in 1965 with Ahmed Rachedi’s masterly documentary Dawn of the Damned/L’Aube des damnés, which was quickly followed by eight fictional features in the 1960s, among them Mohamed Lakhdar
Hamina’s The Wind from the Aurès/Le Vent des Aurès (1966). Tunisian cinema
was inaugurated by Omar Khlifi with the appropriately named The
Dawn/L’Aube (1966), and three further Tunisian features were made in the late
1960s. Morocco followed with three features – all produced by the state film
organization, the CCM – in 1968–9.
With two major (on-going) African film festivals established – the Journées
Cinématographiques de Carthage (JCC) in Tunis in 1966 and the Festival
Panafricain du Cinéma de Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou in
1969 – filmmakers were able to meet and organise. The result was the founding
of the Pan-African Filmmakers’ Federation (FEPACI) which met first in Tunis in
1970 and again in Algiers in 1975. Other meetings of filmmakers followed – at
Mogadishu in 1981 and Niamy in 1982 – and a number of statements and charters were produced. Ferid Boughedir, a true cinéaste (filmmaker, academic, historian, critic), has traced the initial stage of the filmmakers’ thinking. The basis
of their strategy was that ‘the viability of production was linked to the viability
of the four other sectors: exhibition, technical infrastructure, professional training and, of course, the import and distribution of films. Only states could control
these areas, so the state became the fairy godmother’.3 This was a policy the
newly independent African states were broadly willing to follow and many of
them set out to exercise tight control over all aspects of film through the local
variant of the Ministry of Information and/or Culture. In all cases, their attempts
to confront the major international distributors (such as Hollywood’s MPEAA)
were unsuccessful and indeed, south of the Sahara, distribution remained largely
in the hands of two French organisations (COMACICO and SECMA), themselves subsidiaries of Monaco-based holding companies, until 1974.4 National
state film organisations, structured on the lines of the French Centre National
Cinématographique (CNC) and each provided with a typically French-language
acronym, were established. But apart from the CNPC in Mali and the CCM in
Morocco, few of these state organisations survive today, having been closed
down as a result of the state’s gradual withdrawal from direct involvement in
film production.
In most francophone African countries the government has at some time or
another offered financial support for at least some filmmakers, and in certain
states the list of government-supported films is virtually the total list of films
produced (in Algeria up to the mid-1990s, for example, or in contemporary
Morocco). But the involvement in film finance has been paralleled by state
control of expression. Everywhere censorship, open or concealed, is to be
found, with certain films never finding a release at home unless and until the
demands of the government censor have been met. Throughout the region
finance for investment in film production has always been scarce, with the
result that almost half the filmmakers have made only a single feature film in
their whole careers, and only a handful have completed, say, half a dozen films
in a dozen years. Even Souleymane Cisse from Mali, internationally recognised as a major filmmaker, has completed only five features since his debut
in 1975.
Film had been seen to form a vital part of the liberation struggle by the FLN
and in the immediate aftermath of the war it seemed briefly as if Algeria might
develop a distinctive set of national film institutions based on this experience.
The first context of production for post-independence Algerian cinema, the film
collective CAV, led by the activists René Vautier and Ahmed Rachedi, was set
up in 1962. But CAV’s closure after the completion of a small number of documentaries and just one feature-length work, A People on the March/Peuple en
marche (1963), showed that this was not to be. For a while in the 1960s there
was a certain diversity of production organisations supporting filmmaking.
Algerian Television (RTA), for example, co-produced the first Algerian fictional
feature and initially pursued an ambitious programme of feature-length film
production for television, with its directors usually working in black and white
and on 16mm film and often on location. A number of these productions
received showings in cinemas and at foreign festivals. But RTA’s co-production
activities gradually petered out in the 1970s. A further production context was
the OAA, set up in 1963 by the Ministry of Information to produce its own
regular weekly newsreel. But OAA in fact quickly became the production base
for the early fictional features of one of the most forceful and influential figures
in Algerian cinema, the OAA’s first and only director, Mohamed Lakhdar
Hamina. There was even one private company, Casbah Films, founded by the
former FLN activist Yacef Saadi, whose own story formed the basis of the
company’s best known feature, The Battle of Algiers/La Bataille d’Alger
(1965), directed by the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo. The first major state film production organisation, the CNCA, was set up in 1964 with a remit that largely
mirrors that of the colonial film service set up by the French in 1947. It even
established a short-lived professional film training programme (INC), where
the students in its sole year of operation included a number of the future feature
Then in 1967–8 came a reorganisation of film structures, when the OAA and
CNCA were disbanded and three new organisations – the CDC, CAC and
ONCIC – were set up. CDC took over the ciné-bus role initially established by
the French colonial SDC, and CAC took took charge of the administrative
roles. But ONCIC, initially granted just the monopoly of film production in
1967, steadily absorbed all the other functions, to become a total state monopoly. From this point on, it was evident that Algerian cinema was not to have
a revolutionary role, but instead would serve a propagandistic function in
support of government policies. Stylistic innovation was not sought and, as the
Algerian film historian Lotfi Maherzi writes, ‘cinema was still seen with the
same commercial vision. No other codes, no other models of production or programming than those provided by Western cinema were proposed’.5 Maherzi
further notes that though ‘the official texts constantly affirm the educative and
ideological function of Algerian cinema’,6 ONCIC was in fact set up to be an
industrial and commercial operation. But as has usually been the case throughout the world, the state bureaucracy proved to be a very inefficient film producer and the organisation’s structures stifled creativity. Despite this, Algeria
remained the leading film producing country in the Maghreb until the early
2000s, with over 120 films produced by about fifty directors.
ONCIC’s production monopoly meant that it was responsible for virtually all
Algerian feature-film production for cinema release from 1968 until it was dissolved in 1984. Film directors became salaried state employees, paid irrespective
of whether they made films or not. As the director Mohamed Chouikh has
observed: ‘Making a film outside the state structures was a counter-revolutionary
act. It just didn’t happen, you couldn’t even get permission to shoot. That’s why
all the filmmakers, myself included, were integrated into the state sector’.7
Though the CNCA had contributed two features, the OAA four and RTA six, it
was ONCIC which produced or co-produced forty-six of the sixty-one Algerian
feature films made in the period up to 1984. It was responsible for the greatest
Algerian success of the 1970s, Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina’s Chronicle of the
Years of Embers/Chronique des années de braise, which won the Palme d’or at
Cannes in 1975. Despite ONCIC’s overall predominance, some of the key films
of the period were produced on the margins (among them, the fascinating sole
features of Farouk Beloufa and Mohamed Zinet).
From the mid-1980s Algerian cinema underwent a series of bewildering
bureaucratic reorganisations which had a very negative effect on the level and
quality of production. In 1984 ONCIC was dissolved and its functions split
between two separate organisations, one set up for production (ENAPROC) and
one for distribution (ENADEC). The three features produced by ENAPROC
before its rapid demise were very much the kind of works which ONCIC had
previously produced. Then in 1987 the two organisations were fused again to
form CAAIC. Simultaneously RTA’s television resources were regrouped to form
ENPA and the boundaries which had hitherto clearly separated film and television production became blurred. Between them, in the period 1986–96, CAAIC
and ENPA were responsible for twenty-two features (an average of two a year),
with Amar Laskri’s Vietnamese co-production, Lotus Flower/Fleur de lotus
(1998), which was much delayed in production, emerging several years later.
Many of these films were joint productions between the two companies and
most were low-budget works – some in 16mm – primarily directed at a television market.
The violent 1990s political turmoil in Algeria – what Benjamin Stora has called
‘the invisible war’, in which as many as 100,000 people may have died8 – drove
many directors into exile in France and Italy. As a result, co-productions not
involving the state sector made their appearance for the first time, with films shot
in Algeria but funded from Europe. In October 1993 a further radical step was
taken by the Algerian government: the CAAIC state-employed directors had their
contracts terminated. CAAIC was to continue in existence only to offer limited
production support and to administer a new funding scheme based on scripts
submitted to a state commission. Finally, in 1997, the government closed down
CAAIC, ENPA and the newsreel organisation, ANAF, effectively leaving Algeria
without any film production structures.
Since this 1997 closure, the production situation in Algeria has remained
parlous, and the director of the Algerian Cinémathèque, Boujemaa Karèche, was
hardly exaggerating when he stated: ‘Algerian cinema in 2000: zero production,
zero film theatres, zero distributors, zero tickets sold’.9 No Algerian feature films
were made between 1997 and 2002: there was simply no film finance available
in the country. Though the film editor-turned-director Yamina Bachir-Chouikh
had remained in Algeria, her internationally acclaimed Rachida, which ended the
drought in 2002, was made totally with French money.10 A funding scheme based
on a tax on box-office receipts dried up (there were virtually no box office
receipts to tax) and had to be supplemented by the Ministry of Culture with the
aim of producing five films to celebrate the 1,000-year history of Algiers, but only
one of these has emerged, Ghaouti Bendeddouche’s The Neighbour/La Voisine.
The joint Algerian-French partial funding of nine further projects to celebrate
‘The Year of Algeria in France 2002’ has proved more successful, with seven films
(but just two by Algerian-based directors) having appeared. Only in 2004 was a
new national film centre (CNCA) re-established. With just eleven films (all
wholly or partly French-funded and seven of them directed by filmmakers resident in Europe) released between 2000 and 2004, the extent to which one can
now talk meaningfully of an Algerian cinema is doubtful, with the work of the
exiled directors being particularly problematic. Rachid Benhadj’s Mirka (2000),
for example, was shown at the JCC festival in Tunis as an ‘Algerian’ film. But
Benhadj currently lives in Italy and his film is a truly international co-production:
Italian-French-Spanish funding, Vanessa Redgrave and Gérard Depardieu as its
stars, cinematography by the internationally renowned Vittorio Storaro, and
a luxuriant Hollywood-style score by the Algerian composer Safi Boutella.
After a slow start. Moroccan film output has grown steadily for almost forty
years, and with 150 features made by some sixty directors in the period to the
end of 2004, Morocco is now the leading film producer in the area. The
Moroccan Film Centre (CCM) had a considerable experience of short filmmaking, but feature film production did not begin until 1968, twelve years after
independence, with the government seemingly indifferent initially to the wider
potential of the film medium. The CCM had been created by the French in the
1940s as an essentially colonial organisation, yet it was allowed to continue in
existence with virtually unchanged functions after independence – though with
Moroccan technicians gradually replacing the French expatriates and with the
newsreel service restructured as an independent production facility, the
Actualités Marocaines, in 1958. Significantly the CCM was responsible not to
the Ministry of Culture – as is the case with most state film production organisations – but to the Ministry of Information and the Interior. At independence
the state took no powers to control film import, distribution or exhibition, and
Morocco’s 250 35mm cinemas, mostly situated in urban centres, were left in
the private sector. Inevitably they favoured imported foreign films.
Though the CCM funded or co-funded the first three Moroccan feature films
in 1968–9, it did not immediately continue this support in the following decade.
It was not until 1977 that at least partial funding by the CCM became the norm,
with seven features supported in the period 1977–9. But the films of the early
1970s, on which Morocco based its first international reputation, were all
privately financed. The advances in the provision of studios and facilities for
laboratory and dubbing work had little or no impact on the level of Moroccan
domestic production, which remained low throughout the 1970s. During
the whole period since 1968, foreign-produced films, shot using Moroccan
locations, have far outweighed local initiatives in terms of both finance and
The local production situation changed radically in 1980 when the
Moroccan government introduced a system of assistance for production (the
so-called ‘fonds de soutien’), which though paying no attention to quality, did
have the effect of greatly stimulating production activity. As a result the 1980s
saw an upsurge in filmmaking, with the production of thirty-eight feature films,
twenty-one of them made by new directors. The plan was undoubtedly wellintentioned, but the sums offered were small and they were paid only after the
completion of the film. Moreover the scheme was not supported by any system
to control imports or to organise distribution, so that the result was the production of a large number of films for which there was virtually no audience,
either inside Morocco or abroad.
In 1988 the aid scheme was modified again (acquiring the acronym FAPCN)
to lay a greater emphasis on quality and to offer funding largely on the basis of
scripts submitted by filmmakers. The level of funding increased further in the
1990s and new tax concessions were offered to film producers. As a result, six
or seven features have been made each year since the beginning of the 2000s
(thirty-three in all), a level almost three times that achieved in the 1970s and
1980s. For the first time Moroccan films have begun to attract substantial local
audiences with several achieving audiences of over 200,000, and the record
being held by two comedies, Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi’s Looking for My
Wife’s Husband/A la recherche du mari de ma femme (1993) and Saïd Naciri’s
Crooks/Les Bandits (2004), both of which drew over 1 million spectators in
Morocco alone.
The strength of the Moroccan system is that it is eclectic, with money given
both to those who achieve box-office hits at home and to those who are more
successful with festival audiences abroad. Each year at least one newcomer
receives funding for a first feature film, usually after completing two or three
short films. The weakness of the system is that government aid is virtually the
only source of film finance in Morocco. Films that do not receive state support
are simply not made. In general, films made by Moroccan-born filmmakers resident abroad – even Fatima Jebli Ouazzani’s In My Father’s House, which won
the top prize at the 1998 National Film Festival – do not receive distribution in
In the 1990s, the CCM in Morocco made interesting co-productions with
filmmakers from Mali, the Ivory Coast and Tunisia, but its own production
has focused very largely on the domestic market, and films made as foreign coproductions are unusual. As in Algeria under the monopoly of ONCIC in the
1980s, there seems to be some trade-off between quantity and quality in the
Moroccan system. Although the CCM has produced twice as many films as
Tunisian producers since 1990, these works have attracted nowhere near the
same level of international critical attention.
Although it is by far the smallest of the Maghrebian states, Tunisia’s forty or so
directors have produced over eighty features in forty years, twenty of them
between 2000 and 2004. After independence, the two key organisations which
shaped film production, and film culture in general, in Tunisia were SEACI and
SATPEC. SEACI was the government organisation set up to supervise culture
and information, the cinema division of which was headed by the distinguished
critic Tahar Cheriaa from 1961 to 1969. In the early 1960s, SEACI followed
the French colonial pattern of rural distribution of films, setting up a number
of cultural centres equipped with 16mm projectors and organising a ciné-bus
distribution system. It also produced two films directed by foreign filmmakers,
and three of the first six Tunisian feature films released between 1967 and 1970.
SATPEC was the state-owned company set up in 1957 to manage the
production, import, distribution and exhibition of films. In the early 1960s
SATPEC’s attempts to confront the multinational distribution companies which
dominated the Tunisian domestic film market were unsuccessful, but, undeterred, it established an ambitious film production complex at Gammarth in
1966. Unfortunately this could process only black-and-white films until 1983,
and as a result incurred costs and losses which were to lead eventually to the
virtual bankruptcy of the parent company. SATPEC ceased its involvement in
feature production at the end of the 1980s and was closed down in 1994, when
it was absorbed into the television company Canal Horizon. During the years
of its involvement in Tunisian feature film production (1969–90), SATPEC did
not have a monopoly of film production. But, usually acting as co-producer with
the director’s own production company, it was jointly responsible for twentynine of the forty-nine Tunisian features produced over this period, a dozen of
which also involved foreign co-production companies.
Though Tunisia has the smallest number of film theatres among the three
Maghrebian states (150 at independence, declining to just thirty-six in the year
2000), it has always had a rich film culture, exemplified by the bilingual film
revue Goha (later SeptièmArt), which was founded in 1964 and reached its
100th issue in 2002. The leading Arab film festival, the biennial Carthage Film
Festival (the JCC), was founded in Tunis in 1966 and continues into the 2000s.
There has been a flourishing amateur film movement since the 1960s, when the
on-going amateur film festival at Kélibia, FIFAK, was established. It was from
this amateur film movement that half a dozen or so of the new Tunisian feature
film directors emerged.
Despite the closure of SATPEC, the Tunisian government has continued to
support film production. In 1981 it introduced system of aid for film producers
based on a 6 per cent levy on all box-office receipts (akin to that in Morocco).
Since 1990 the state television service (ERTT) has also served as co-producer
of one film a year (twelve in all up to 2002), and the Tunisian Ministry of
Culture has contributed directly to half a dozen others. Because of the limitations of the Tunisian domestic market, filmmakers have had to look abroad for
production finance, and of the thirty-six features released since 1990, twentyeight have been international co-productions. Most of the co-producing companies have been in France or Belgium (where many filmmakers received their
training), but there have also been links with Morocco (six features). A key
event in the mid-1980s was the emergence of Ahmed Attia as a major independent producer, responsible through his company Cinétéléfilms for many of
the best recent Tunisian features, which achieved wide success and an international distribution.
Sub-Saharan Francophone West Africa
There are several reasons for treating these fourteen states as a single unit in
terms of their filmmaking. As former colonies, all were given special treatment
by French ministries concerned with foreign affairs and cultural cooperation
(indeed the Ministry of Cooperation was set up specifically to develop postindependence ties with Africa). It is difficult to imagine that many of the films
considered here could have been made and obtained wide international showings without French government support. The need for foreign showings is very
clear, since often the number of cinemas in the filmmaker’s home country is
derisory: Mahamat Saleh Haroun films a visit to what he claims is Chad’s only
existing film theatre in his quasi-documentary Bye Bye Africa (1999).
The total number of films produced by individual states over thirty or forty
years is very small, on average about six feature films annually, shared between
the fourteen states. Often, as is the case with Benin, Cameroon and Gabon,
there is a ten- , fifteen- or even twenty-year gap between the work of the mainly
16mm pioneers of the 1970s (mostly directly funded by the French Ministry of
Cooperation) and that of the 35mm ‘new cinema’ practitioners of the 1990s
(also dependent on foreign funding). The whole impetus for the change from
16mm to 35mm came from French sources, even in Senegal, which has a history
of continuous production, if only at the rate of a single film a year, since 1966.
Nowhere – neither in the Maghreb nor in francophone West Africa – has there
been the kind and level of general investment in infrastructure equivalent to
that which allowed a genuinely autonomous film industry to emerge in Egypt.
Nor has such a project been attractive to successive French governments, which
have never shown any real interest in African infrastructional development.
The number of cinemas in any given state has never reached a level which
would allow it to sustain financially a local production with a local audience.
An invaluable survey by Jacques Roitfeld for Unifrance Film in 1980 estimated
the total number of film theatres in francophone West Africa as 337,12 and there
is a broad correlation between the number of films produced and the national
total of cinemas. This is very apparent if we consider the five countries which
have produced twenty or more films:
Senegal: forty-seven films; third equal in number of cinemas (fifty-two)
Burkina Faso: forty films; seventh in number of cinemas (twelve)
Cameroon: thirty-one films; third equal in number of cinemas (fifty-two)
Ivory Coast: twenty-six films; second in number of cinemas (fifty-nine)
Mali: twenty-five films; fifth in number of cinemas (thirty).
The anomalies are Guinea, whose output (fourteen films) does not match its
number of cinemas (sixty-five), perhaps because of the autocratic rule and particular cultural policies of President Sekou Touré, and Burkina Faso, which
became the externally funded ‘capital’ of francophone African cinema, despite
its paucity of film theatres.13
The argument that these francophone West African films are best seen as
a single group does not mean, however, that specifically African initiatives were
unimportant or that the types of filmmakers in specific African countries – and
the films they have produced – do not have characteristics that differentiate
them from production in neighbouring states. There are huge distinctions
between the newly independent states of Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of history,
language and ethnicity, and indeed there are equally wide differences within
them. The most extreme case is perhaps Cameroon with a population of just
15 million, who belong to 200 different ethnic groups and speak over 100 different languages.14 Not surprisingly, Cameroon’s feature films consistently use
the French language (apart, that is, from Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Aristotle’s Plot/Le
Complot d’Aristote (1996), which uses English and is in other ways quite distinctive, having been shot in Zimbabwe with South African actors and with the
post-production work being undertaken in Zimbabwe, France and Canada).15
Cameroon’s output (thirty-one films by thirteen directors, most of them French
film school graduates, with five from the CLCF alone) is boosted by eight
Alphonse Béni features in the period 1975–85, aptly described by Ferid
Boughedir as ‘films policiers érotico-disco’.16 Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa’s
classic ‘cultural’ feature, Muna Moto (1975), pointed to one possible direction
for Cameroonian production, but the actual course taken by the Cameroonian
filmmakers has been a distinctly commercial orientation with real efforts to
reach a wide audience through the use of comedy. In 1973 the government set
up a funding body, FODIC, which supported four features between 1978 and
1982. But only one film was made in the nine years between 1987 and 1996,
when a new group of young French-funded directors working in 35mm began
to make their appearance and international reputations.
Another French-language cinema of the 1970s, that of Gabon (nine films
from six directors), displays a similar discontinuity. Though Gabon had just
eight cinemas, the president, Omar Bongo, took a highly personal interest in
film, establishing a film centre (CENACI) and encouraging a couple of 1970s
productions. In the late 1970s the president’s own company produced versions
of two plays written by his wife and an adaptation of his own memoirs.
Subsequently there was a twenty-one year gap before the production of Dôlè,
made by the young FEMIS graduate Léon Imunga Ivanga and winning the top
prize at the JCC in Tunis in 2000. The output of Benin (formerly Dahomey),
which nationalised its six cinemas in 1974, is smaller and even more fragmented (just nine features from five directors). The initial film organisation, the
ONACIDA, changed its name in 1974 (when the country was renamed by its
Marxist-Leninist government) to OBECI. According to Victor Bachy, nationalisation ‘raised great hopes, but OBECI, badly directed and badly managed, led
Benin cinema to disaster’. There were just two features in the mid-1970s from
filmmakers who subsequently went into exile, and a further feature in 1985,
then a fourteen-year gap, as the first two directors born after independence
made their appearance.
Congo’s tiny output (five films by four filmmakers, all of whom were trained
in Paris) is equally disjointed. Initially, there was a French-funded pioneering
feature in 1973, followed in 1979 and 1981 by two features produced by the
state organisation ONACI. Then there was a thirteen-year gap until the first
films of younger filmmakers were shown. Guinea, with fourteen films from
seven filmmakers plus two collectively made features, nationalised its cinemas –
through the state company Syli-Cinéma – as soon as it claimed its independence
in 1958, and produced a first feature in 1966. Subsequently, Guinea’s cinema
comprises essentially three stages: a trio of films by Dansogho Mohamed
Camara and a dance film by Moussa Kemoko Diakite between 1977 and
1990; three films directed between 1991 and 2002 by Cheik Doukouré, who
has lived in France for forty years; and debut films by three new younger directors since 1997.
Niger has less than a dozen cinemas and its output of twelve films (all but
one in 16mm) are the work of just five directors, four of whom are self-taught.
Indeed, the distinctive feature of Niger’s cinema, according to Ferid Boughedir,
is that its filmmakers ‘represent African cinema from inside’,17 not with the kind
of distance found in the work of European-trained intellectuals. Niger was a
favoured location for the French documentarist and ethnographer Jean Rouch,
and he discovered and helped two 1960s pioneers of African cinema: the
animator Mustapha Alassane and Oumarou Ganda, who played the lead in
Rouch’s documentary Moi un noir. Most of their work comprises short or
medium-length films, but Alassane did direct three 16mm features and Ganda
two – the first in the early 1970s and the second, The Exile/L’Exilé, shortly
before his death in 1981, at the age of just forty-six.18 In the early 1980s Niger
television (ORTN) briefly became the focus of local filmmaking and also participated in the production of the Mauritanian Med Hondo’s pan-African epic,
Sarraounia. No feature films have been made in Niger since 1989.
Four other ‘national’ cinemas comprise just one or two filmmakers, most of
whom live in exile. Feature filmmaking in Mauritania, for example, is represented by just two Paris-based filmmakers, but both in their very different ways
are major figures in African cinema. The veteran Med Hondo has produced
seven politically committed features and a number of long documentaries since
1970, while Abderrahmane Sissako, who trained at the Moscow film school
(VGIK), is one of the great hopes of the new African cinema. Chad was the
birthplace of two Paris-trained and French-based filmmakers whose careers
began in 1999–2000: Mahamat Saleh Haroun, who made two Frenchproduced features at the turn of the millennium, and Issa Serge Coelo, who
made one. Togo’s sole filmmaker, Kilizou Blaise Abalo, made his only feature,
Kawilasi, co-produced by Togo’s Ministry of Cooperation and Culture, in
1992. In the Central African Republic (Centrafrique) Didier Ouenangare codirected a first feature, The Silence of the Forest/Le Silence de la forêt, (with the
Cameroonian Bassek Ba Kobhio) in 2003.
There are just four Sub-Saharan francophone African cinemas – in addition
to Cameroon – that have a sufficient level of continuous production to enable
any sort of meaningful statements to be made about trends or tendencies, but it
is doubtful whether the films can be said to constitute a ‘national’ cinema. The
four states are Ivory Coast (twenty-six films from thirteen filmmakers), Mali
(twenty-five films from eleven filmmakers), Burkina Faso (forty films from
twenty filmmakers) and Senegal (forty-seven films from twenty-one filmmakers).
Ivory Coast cinema has a double origin, in the 1960s work of the IDHEC
graduates Désiré Écaré and Bassori Timité in Paris and in the state organisation, SIC, set up in 1962 and in existence (though with little real impact) until
1979. The two – very different – major directors, who have contributed half
the films, are both 1970s pioneers trained at French film school: Henri Duparc,
who has made six features, most of them exuberant comedies, and Roger
Gnoan Mbala, who has made five and has specialised of late in village dramas
treating themes of power and religion. None of the other eleven directors has
made more than a couple of films, so it is difficult to give this cinema a focus,
beyond the fact that most of its directors (nine out of thirteen) are Paris film
school graduates.
Though a first feature film in Mali was not made until 1975, government
concern with cinema as a social force began a dozen years earlier with the
creation in 1963 by the Ministry of Information of a national film organisation,
OCINAM, with key technical assistance from Yugoslavia. Five of Mali’s future
feature film directors were sent for training in Moscow and one to East
Germany. In 1967 the production unit was separated off from OCINAM to
become SCINFOMA, which produced a dozen shorts, before being in turn dissolved into the CNPA which (particularly under the leadership of Cheick
Oumar Sissoko who joined it in 1981) became a focus for Malian production
from the 1970s through to the 2000s. Sissoko has followed the same pattern of
socially committed filmmaking as the pioneer Souleymane Cisse, who was
shaped by his training at the VGIK film school in Moscow in the 1960s. With
five features each, they dominate Malian filmmaking, jointly setting its tone
and, in the case of Cisse, changing the whole course of Sub-Saharan African
filmmaking with Yeelen in 1987. Their efforts have been supported more
recently by the work of other younger Moscow graduates. With most of its
directors professionally trained and several of them professional writers,
Malian cinema is particularly rich in the range and texture of its films. Though
the state provides some support through CNPA, most films are international
co-productions. Ferid Boughedir wrote in 1984 that ‘Malian cinema possesses
the men. The helping hand of a few legislative measures would certainly allow
it to become one of the great African cinemas of tomorrow’.19 Since the arrival
of Sissoko in 1986, the appearance of Cisse’s Yeelen in 1987, and the emergence
of five other newcomers between 1989 and 2002, this promise has been at least
partially fulfilled.
In Senegal, which makes up about a fifth of francophone West African cinema
in terms of both films and directors, nine features were produced before a state
production organisation was created. Leading the way was Ousmane Sembene
with his first three features, Black Girl/La Noire de . . . (1964), The Money
Order/Mandabi (1968) and Emitai (1971). Though the first two of these were
completed partly thanks to French financing, Emitai, with its denunciation of
French colonialism, was independently financed. From 1970 Sembene was supported by Mahama Traore (generally known as Johnson Traore), who made
three 16mm fictions in four years through his company Sunu Films, Ababacar
Samb-Makharam (with Kodou) and Momar Thiam. In 1973 Djibril Diop
Mambety made his feature appearance, after a couple of shorts, with his
wonderfully inventive first feature, Touki Bouki. Two years later Safi Faye,
francophone West Africa’s first woman feature director, made the widely
seen, feature-length, black-and-white 16mm, Letter from My Village/Lettre
paysanne/Kaddu Beykat (1975), a mix of documentary and fiction.
The state production organisation, SNC, which began operations in 1973,
provided up to 90 per cent of the production costs of five features – a mix of
16mm and 35mm works – before its demise in 1977. The decade ended strongly
with three good but very varied features: Sembene’s Ceddo, Moussa Yoro
Bathily’s Tiyabu Biru and Safi Faye’s Fad’Jal, the latter co-funded by the French
Ministry of Cooperation and the Paris-based INA. The institution of a new
funding structure (the Fonds d’aide à l’industrie cinématographique) led to a
brief burst of early 1980s filmmaking, with three debut features, including that
of the veteran film historian and documentarist Paulin Soumanou Vieyra. Three
other directors – Thierno Faty Sow, Samb-Makharam and Thiam – made their
second or third features. Then there was a four-year gap (1984–7) before, as
elsewhere in Africa, a new generation, mostly born in the 1950s, made their
appearance. These new filmmakers included Amadou Saalum Seck, who had
studied in Munich, Clarence T. Delgardo, who trained in Algeria and Portugal,
and four Paris film school graduates – Moussa Sene Absa, Samba Félix N’Diaye,
Joseph Gaye Ramaka and Mansour Sora Wade – who made a wider impact.
Burkina Faso (previously known, until 1984, as Upper Volta) occupies a paradoxical position in African filmmaking. As Victor Bachy put it in 1983, the
country is ‘filmically speaking, an exceptional country, a sort of African lighthouse’.20 Ferid Boughedir goes even further calling it, in 1984, ‘a symbol at the
heart of African cinema’.21 Since 1969, the country and its capital Ouagadougou
have been home to Black Africa’s premier biennial film festival, FESPACO, and
it is there too that the African filmmakers’ association, FEPACI, has its headquarters. Thanks to French funding from 1979, attempts were also made to
build an inter-African film distribution organisation (CIDC) and a parallel production consortium (CIPROFILM), both of which carried great hopes that they
were unable to fulfil. The first Sub-Saharan African film school (INAFEC) was
set up in 1976, but though its graduates include major figures such as Idrissa
Ouedraogo, Dani Kouyaté and Régina Fanta Nacro, it attracted few foreign students and closed in 1986. It was in Ouagadougou too that the African film
library (the Cinémathèque Africaine) was established in 1995.
Though Burkina Faso possessed only six cinemas at the time of independence,
its government was the first in Sub-Saharan Africa to nationalise film exhibition
in 1970, giving the administration of the six cinemas over to a new state organisation, SONAVOCI. It also led the struggle to free francophone Africa from the
stranglehold of foreign distribution companies. But feature filmmaking was
slow to develop and initially lacked a clear focus, partly because the first ten
films were directed by ten different directors, with a mix of film school graduates and autodidacts. But in a fascinating book-length ‘close-up’ on Burkina
Faso’s cinema from 1960 to 1995, Teresa Hoefert de Turégano demonstrates,
from a 2005 perspective, a clear double pattern of Burkinabè production. In
the films which were dominated by the local authorities or made as African
co-productions (though financing still often comes largely from France), the features produced are ‘highly socio-educative, didactic and melodramatic’.22
Though wholly laudable in their aims and intentions, these films have received
virtually no screenings abroad and at the same time have proved unpopular with
audiences at home. The second tendency – pioneered by Gaston Kabore with
Wend Kuuni (1982) – comprises films that ‘have narratives that are universally
tuned, and in some cases play with an exotic dimension’.23 Here the financing is
overtly European and the filmmakers resident or regularly present in France. Yet
these films have proved most popular with Burkinabè audiences (with Wend
Kuuni attracting over 100,000 spectators).24 This tendency contains the work
of the three key figures who have given Burkinabè cinema its international
cinema: Gaston Kabore, Idrissa Ouedraogo and S. Pierre Yaméogo. These three,
who are together responsible for half the national output, were all born in
the 1950s, studied filmmaking in Paris, and began their careers in the 1980s.
The period since 1990 has seen the appearance of eight younger directors,
mostly born in the 1950s or 1960s and all working in 35mm with largely
French funding, but apart from Dani Kouyaté they have had far less impact than
their elders.
As can be seen from the above overview, there were a number of general factors
which influenced filmmaking in all four geographic areas. Firstly, there was the
persistence into the post-independence period of Western film dominance over
African screens, a situation that African governments were largely unable
to control. Speaking specifically about Cameroon, but describing a situation
common throughout Africa, Richard Bjornson has noted that foreign films and
pulp fiction appealed to Cameroonians for the same reason as soccer matches:
‘All three forms of entertainment provide a vicarious escape from the monotony
of everyday life. They also enabled people momentarily to forget the country’s
pressing social and economic problems’.25 African filmmakers wishing to confront serious national issues in their films have therefore faced real problems in
creating a popular audience for their work, since they are proposing a quite different function for cinema from that to which film audiences are accustomed.
Secondly, the heritage of the colonial period played a key role in the structural
organisation of African film production. In the Maghreb, the influence of the
French was crucial because of the important infrastructures that were left in
place at the time of independence: over 300 cinemas in Algeria, 250 in Morocco,
155 in Tunisia. The interest in cinema which had been developed by the French
before independence is reflected in the existence of the same kind of unified
federation of national ciné-clubs as exists in France, each equipped with the
characteristic French acronym: FTCC in Tunisia, FACC in Algeria, FNCCM in
Morocco. South of the Sahara there was no such infrastructure, though a crossnational federation of film clubs, the FACISS, did exist. France’s prestige led the
new African governments to turn their attention to film and to create national
film organisations modelled on the lines of the French CNC.
Thirdly, in all four areas, filmmaking was initially regarded as first and
foremost an affair of the state, which played a crucial role in fostering film
production and ordering its financing. Throughout the Maghreb it was –
unsurprisingly – the indigenous governments in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia
which took on the role of organising film production. But south of the Sahara,
many of the key governmental inputs into film production itself were made in
Paris, with results that are inevitably ambiguous in their national status and
indeed Africanness. These ambiguities are well captured in Ferid Boughedir’s
observation that ‘one can say, broadly, that African cinema, in francophone
Africa at least, exists thanks to France and also does not exist thanks to
Fourthly, in virtually all four areas, the attitude of the state towards film production shifted radically in the 1980s and early 1990s, a move exemplified by the
closing down of numerous state production organisations and the introduction
of new schemes of aid in Morocco and Tunisia. Equally important were the shifts
in French aid to African film production, which transformed production south
of the Sahara. One sign of this new French approach is the resumption of feature
filmmaking in most francophone West African states. Another is the production
between 1989 and 1999 of over fifty 35mm short and medium-length films
(many works by new directors which have no immediately obvious commercial
possibilities).27 It is to these French aid programmes that we must now turn.
1. Ferid Boughedir, Le Cinéma africain de A à Z (Brussels: OCIC, 1987), p. 28.
2. Hédi Khelil, Resistances et utopies: Essais sur le cinéma arabe et africain (Tunis:
Editions Sahar, 1994), p. 4.
3. Ibid., p. 26.
4. For a fuller discussion of distribution and exhibition, see Manthia Diawara, African
Cinema: Politics and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992),
pp. 104–15.
5. Lotfi Maherzi, Le Cinéma algérien: Institutions, imaginaire, idéologie (Algiers:
SNED, 1980), p. 66.
6. Ibid.
7. Mohamed Chouikh, ‘On croyait être le cheval de Troie qui ferait bouger les choses
de l’intérieur’, in Où va le cinéma algérien?, Cahiers du Cinéma, special issue (Paris,
February–March 2003), p. 72.
8. Benjamin Stora, La Guerre invisible: Algérie, années 90 (Paris: Presses de Sciences
PO, 2001), p. 7.
9. Boujemaa Karèche, interview in Où va le cinéma algérien?, p. 36.
10. As Tewfik Farès asks, ‘Is Rachida an Algerian film? Is Rosemary’s Baby a Polish
film?’, in Où va le cinéma algérien?, p. 70.
11. In 1996–7 the disparity was over forty to one ($2.4m Moroccan investment,
$98.2m foreign investment) (Rabat: Cinémaroc 8, December 1998).
12. Jacques Roitfeld, Afrique noire francophone (Paris: Unifrance, 1980).
13. The general decline in African cinemas is illustrated by a more recent survey:
twenty-two in Senegal and just seven in Cameroon (both down from fifty-two),
twenty-five in Ivory Coast (down from fifty-nine), twenty-three in Mali (down from
thirty). Only the special case of Burkina Faso (up from twelve to thirty-four active
cinemas) bucks this trend, in L’Atlas du Cinéma, Cahiers du Cinéma, special issue
(Paris, April 2003), p. 33.
Guy Jérémie Ngansop, Le Cinéma camerounais en crise (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1987),
p. 13. Richard Bjornso, notes that ‘the definition of language is a vexed question in
this context and depends to a large extent on the way one distinguishes between
languages and dialects. Estimates on the number of Cameroonian languages range
from sixty to 250’, in The African Quest for Freedom and Identity: Cameroonian
Writing and the National Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1994), p. 485.
Jonathan Haynes, ‘African Filmmaking and the Postcolonial Predicament: Quartier
Mozart and Aristotle’s Plot’, in Kenneth J. Harrow (ed.), African Cinema:
Postcolonial and Feminist Readings (Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa
World Press, 1999), p. 25.
Ferid Boughedir, Le Cinéma en Afrique et dans le monde (Paris: Jeune Afrique Plus,
1984), p. 72.
Ibid., p. 76.
Though their work does not fit with the ‘traditions’ traced here, both were important pioneers of African cinema. For Ganda, see Maïzama Issa, Omarou Ganda,
Cinéaste nigérien: Un regard de dedans sur la société en transition (Dakar: EnaÉdition, 1991), and for Alassane, see Gaêl Teicher, Moustapha Alassane Cinéaste
(Paris: Les Éditions de l’Oeil, 2003).
Boughedir, Le Cinéma en Afrique, p. 75.
Victor Bachy, La Haute Volta et le cinéma (Brussels: OCIC, 1983), p. 7.
Boughedir, Le Cinéma en Afrique, p. 74.
Teresa Hoefert de Turégano, African Cinema and Europe: Close-up on Burkina
Faso, Florence: European Press Academic, 2005, p. 228.
Ibid., p. 229.
Ibid., p. 256.
Bjornson, The African Quest, p. 311.
Ferid Boughedir, in Philippe J. Maarek (ed.), Afrique noire: quel cinéma? (Actes du
colloque, Université Paris X Nanterre, December 1981) (Paris: Association du
Cinéclub de l’Université de Paris X, 1983), p. 32.
See the Guide du cinéma africain (1989–1999) (Paris: Ecrans Nord-Sud, 2000).
It is less the case of a French aid policy serving the cinemas of the South,
than of the latter being used to assist French cultural policy.
Raphaël Millet, 19981
French Aid (1): 1963–79
Filmmaking south of the Sahara has long been a matter of concern for the French
government. As a result, although we are dealing with films that often have a distinctly anti-colonial edge and a clear insight into postcolonial realities, it is
impossible to understand the existence of these films without considering first the
attitudes and policies of the former colonising power, France. A good starting
point is the concept of ‘Francophonie’. The word itself dates from the nineteenth
century, but its modern political sense of a union of those countries where the
French language is used in government, commerce, administration and culture
has a part-African origin, in the thinking and policies of three post-independence
presidents: Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), Habib Bourguiba (Tunisia) and
Hamani Diori (Niger). These national leaders were ‘preoccupied with maintaining privileged links with the former colonising power within the perspective of
postcolonialism’.2 In world political terms, ‘la Francophonie’ is an organisation
comparable with the British Commonwealth, present in all five continents and
with forty-nine member states (twenty-six of them African) and three observers.
Africa has always been a key concern, since, as J. Barrat has observed, ‘Africa
allows France truly to be a world power, and not just a European one’.3 As far
as cinema is concerned, Raphaël Millet captures the rationale of the French aid
programme perfectly:
The French concept of patrimony is sufficiently wide to encompass cultural productions from the francophone area. Thus the francophone
‘cinemas from elsewhere’ (cinémas d’ailleurs) – even if they are in another
language: Baoule, Wolof, Dioula, etc – become ‘French’ (the shift is easy),
and can therefore be statistically integrated into the evaluation of the
spread of French culture in the world.4
It must always be borne in mind that the relationship between France and its
former African colonies is not one between equals. As Alphonse MannéeBatschy and Berthin Nzélomona stress: ‘When one considers the economic
exchanges between the members of “la Francophonie”, one is struck by the
frightening imbalance benefiting the rich countries which are members’. As a
result, Africa will ‘continue to play the traditional role of supplier of basic products and strategic raw materials in the process of globalisation and the international division of labour’.5
It is within such a framework that one needs to evaluate the multiplicity of
bilateral and multilateral cultural links which bind the francophone countries,
of which those specifically concerning cinema form just one part. Though
French aid has been absolutely vital to the creation of African cinema,
the actual sums involved are tiny in the context of the overall budgets of
the ministries concerned (the French Ministry of Culture receives no less than
1 per cent of the overall French government revenues).6 In 1963 the French
Ministry for Cooperation and Development, set up specifically to oversee
cooperation between France and the African states, established a film bureau
in Paris, headed by Jean-René Debrix. Like the parallel newsreel production
set-up (the CAI), it was staffed by professional editors (among them Andrée
Davanture), but it was equipped only with 16mm post-production facilities.
Debrix ran the unit till 1978 and during his time the level of African production was so low that every film project could be given backing. An individual
filmmaker simply had to turn up at the bureau. But Debrix’s successor,
Jacques Gérard, found that, with both filmmakers and projects multiplying,
choices had to be made and, as he says, ‘it was extremely strange for a French
administrator to have to make choices about whether or not an African film
should be produced’.7 In all, during the period 1963–75, 125 of the 185
feature and short films made in francophone Africa received French technical
and financial support. Debrix claims that, none of these 125 films has been
subject to censorship or rejection by the Ministry of Cooperation and its
Bureau de cinéma.8 But he admits that he did refuse to back Ousmane
Sembene’s Black Girl/La Noire de . . . , a bleak picture of French postcolonial
attitudes, though the Ministry did subsequently buy the non-commercial distribution rights.
It was through the purchase, at a higher than normal price, of these noncommercial distribution rights – for showings in educational establishments in
France and at French cultural centres in Africa – that the French government
funding was organised. Any aid before production involved the employment of
a French producer, who would control the finance, and post-production aid had
to be spent in Paris laboratories or at the bureau’s editing facilities: a typical
example of an aid programme where the money returns to the donor nation
and does nothing to create an infrastructure in the recipient nation. The initial
result was also a curiously ghettoised body of films, made by individuals, often
without reference to their respective national governments and cut off from
normal commercial exhibition outlets in Africa (which were generally equipped
for 35mm projection). Instead, the films were at the time available for viewing
(in 16mm film or Umatic and VHS copies) through the film library of the
Ministry of Cooperation and subsequently through Audecam. Now (a wonderful irony!) the archive is held by the Association pour la Diffusion de la
Pensée Française (the Association for the Diffusion of French Thought), which
conceals its identity under the acronym ADPF. In general, the films have seldom
been available on African screens: this is, in a very real sense, a cinema of which
France is ‘the principal producer and consumer’.9
It is hard to dispute Claire Andrade-Watkins’s harsh judgement on sixteen
years of French aid. She points out that the primary objective of France’s postcolonial support was ‘to maintain the colonial legacy of assimilation, perpetrating and strengthening a Franco-African cultural connection through
newsreels, educational documentaries and films of cultural expression produced by Africans and distributed and shown in non-commercial venues such
as ciné-clubs, cinémathèques and French embassies throughout francophone
Africa’.10 Debrix talks of the aim of ‘an African cinema free in its expression
and creativity’,11 but even he seems doubtful of real achievements after a dozen
years of administering the scheme, observing that ‘everything remains to be
done in Africa in the area of cinema’.12 At times he even seems disparaging,
describing African cinema as ‘a cinema of ideologues, a cinema for festivals’.13
Certainly this is a neutered cinema from which any real critique of French neocolonialism or African corruption must of necessity be absent. It is ostensibly a
cinema of cultural identity, but the definition of this identity is distinctly limited
in social and political terms. A good example of what could nevertheless be
achieved within this system of French aid is Jean-Pierre Dikongue-Pipa’s picture
of African traditional values in a rural society, Muna Moto (1975), which was
shot in 16mm but blown up to 35mm, won prizes at festivals in Geneva and
Paris, at FESPACO and the JCC, but was seen by only 3,000 spectators when
it was shown commercially in Paris.14
French Aid (2): 1980–2004
The first French scheme for aid to African filmmaking through the Ministry of
Cooperation’s film bureau was closed down in the last years of the Giscard
presidency, but found new life in 1980 with the advent of President François
Mitterand. Initially the French gave support to a number of pan-African
projects: the leading African film festival (FESPACO), an African film school
(INAFEC), an African film library (the Cinémathèque Africaine), a pan-African
distribution organisation (CIDC) and its corresponding production consortium
(CIPROFILM). Since all of these initiatives were located in the capital of
Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, this country became in effect the heart of African
filmmaking. Aid for film production also resumed, but the focus of postproduction facilities in Paris after 1980 was the independent company Atria, set
up by Andrée Davanture specifically to support filmmakers north and south of
the Sahara and funded by the Ministry of Cooperation and the French film
centre (the CNC).
This decentralisation was typical of the way in which French aid was organised from the 1980s onwards. A key development was the establishment in
1984 of the Fonds Sud, funded jointly by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs,
Cooperation and Culture, together with the CNC, with a specific brief to
finance (with aid of up to 1 million francs per project) features for distribution
in film theatres in France and abroad. In the first twenty years of its existence
(to the end of 2004) the Fonds Sud helped fund some 322 films worldwide, in
Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Its impact on
African filmmaking north and south of the Sahara has been enormous, with no
less that 105 films receiving production assistance. By far the greatest amount
of aid has gone to Tunisia (twenty-three films), followed at some distance by
Burkina Faso (fourteen), Morocco (twelve), Algeria and Senegal (both eleven),
Cameroon and Ivory Coast (both six). Guinea, Mauritania, Congo and Chad
have each had two films funded; Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and
Gabon one each. Fonds Sud funding has been crucial for the development of
the careers of certain filmmakers: Nouri Bouzid (Tunisia) has received aid for
all five of his features, Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) and Cheick Oumar
Sissoko (Mali) for four each of theirs.15
That funding from the Fonds Sud has been additional to that which could be
obtained directly from the Ministry of Cooperation, from the Fonds d’Action
Sociale (FAS), the Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique (or ACCT,
later reshaped as the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie) and
various other French sources such as the Fondation Gans pour le Cinéma, the
Fondation Beaumarchais and the television organisation Canal. Other
European sources which have aided African production include the European
Union itself (through the Fonds Européen de Développement (FED), part of
whose funding – thanks to French efforts – is reserved for filmmaking). There
are also a number of private foundations such as the Dutch Fonds Hubert Bals
and the Swiss foundations, Montecinemaverita and Stanley Thomas Johnson,
to which filmmakers can apply. In addition, there is also a Canadian funding
scheme, linked to the Montreal ‘Vues d’Afrique’ festival, the ‘Programme to
Incite North-South Co-operation’, and further possibilities of funding from
various European television companies. Success with one governmental agency
often opens the door to others and encourages private foundations and French
production companies to become involved. All of these multiple funding opportunities are in addition to whatever may be available locally in the filmmaker’s
own country. It is not unusual to find that an African film lists, in its credits,
production companies from two or three different countries and support from
half a dozen or more funding bodies.
Any African film that achieves funding therefore needs to satisfy a number of
divergent foreign needs and interests. It must conform partly at least to
European criteria as to what constitutes an ‘African’ film. From a Burkina Faso
perspective, Teresa Hoefert de Turégano argues that ‘in essence the FrancoAfrican exchange is far from one-directional and reveals a negotiated new
Africanness’.16 But she ignores the most crucial of the demands made on African
filmmakers, namely that, whatever language will be used in the eventual film,
a full, dialogued production script in a European language (usually French) will
be required by foreign backers. Until very recently it has also been helpful for
an African filmmaker to have a production base in Paris in order to take full
advantage of all available funding and distribution possibilities. The danger of
such procedures is that what will result is a kind of internationalised ‘author’s
cinema’ (cinéma d’auteur), in which the crucial role the cinema can play in the
affirmation of African identity is called into question or at least neutralised.
As far as French-funded productions were concerned, the arrangements after
1990 initially seemed to proceed as before. In 1991 three African features, all
funded by the Ministry of Cooperation, shot in 16mm and edited at Atria, were
shown in the ‘Un certain regard’ section of the Cannes festival. But later, Andrée
Davanture notes, the situation changed: ‘in the 1990s, it seemed that the only
films they favoured were those able to “meet” a French audience, to be presented
at European film festivals, above all at Cannes. It’s a defensible point of view,
but it shouldn’t be the only one’.17 Davanture’s view is supported by Raphaël
Millet, writing in 1998, who notes that ‘a selection for Cannes or a large
[Parisian] audience is a symbolic success for the Agence de la Francophonie or
the Fonds Sud, whose prestige and visibility are thereby increased’.18
In 1999 the whole pattern of French aid to African filmmaking took yet
another turn. The Ministry of Cooperation was reabsorbed into the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry’s previous direct aid scheme now became the
Appui au Développement des Cinémas du Sud (ADCSud), which held its first
funding meeting in December 2000. Within this new governmental structure
African filmmakers no longer had a privileged place and several collaborating
organisations which had received funding through the 1990s – such as Atria –
now found themselves abandoned. The level of aid (about 20 million francs a
year) remained unchanged from the 1990s, but the fund was now open to a new
and much wider ‘priority’ group, the so-called Zone de Solidarité Prioritaire
(ZSP). Grants were given to filmmakers from other parts of Africa (Angola,
Mozambique, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia), and also to directors from
Lebanon, Iraq, Cuba, Vietnam and the Palestinian territories. Francophone
Africa remained a priority, however, and sixty-five of the eighty-five films given
funding between 2001 and 2003 were produced in the francophone countries
north and south of the Sahara with which we are concerned here. In January
2004 the ADCSud was itself dissolved and replaced by the Fonds Images Afrique
(FIA), targeted specifically at Sub-Saharan Africa. The new programme’s stated
aims are to enrich the programme rosters of television channels in the countries
concerned (funding all types of production – telefilms, sitcoms, animation,
video-clips, pilots for magazine programming, documentaries) and to increase
the share of African fictional feature films in cinemas in Africa. The new scheme
drew its funding from a range of sources: the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
the Intergovernmental Agency of the Francophonie, the European Commission
and the French national film centre (CNC).
The official emphasis continues to be on the development of African cultural
identities and once more there are no plans for any investment in African infrastructure. But in fact the work produced can be described as ‘exotic film with
French cultural affinities’ and defined as ‘an adjunct to French cinema within a
global struggle for existence in the film markets’.19 In furnishing funding for
African film, the French government is indeed attempting to assert for itself a
central role in world cinema. To quote Raphaël Millet again: ‘Going beyond the
defence of its own national cinema (the French “cultural exception”), France
affirms itself as a dynamic player in the whole landscape of world cinema’.20 This
view is echoed by the government’s own official justification for this aid programme. For example, Dominique Wallon, head of the short-lived organisation
set up to promote and distribute African films, ‘Ecrans Nord-Sud’ (1998–2001),
stresses the usefulness of such a scheme for French domestic film production:
Whether we’re talking about Europe, the Maghreb or Black Africa, whatever the differences in cultural identity, there exist cultural familiarities,
especially filmic ones, which mean that spectators who go to see
Halfaouine [Ferid Boughedir’s highly successful Tunisian feature of 1990]
are more willing to see French films. It’s evidence of the absolute solidarity of national cinemas resisting American pressure. Hence the strategy of
helping co-productions, the projects with Africa and Eastern Europe.21
The African Filmmaker
How does the individual filmmaker fare in this context so much defined by
French government policies? If we look at the overall output of films in the francophone countries north and south of the Sahara, we find that just over 580
films have been made by about 270 filmmakers. The following tabulation –
which ignores films shot and distributed on video – lists all fictional feature
films to the end of 2004 in accordance with the filmmaker’s nationality. It is
based on commonly accepted listings and includes a few feature-length documentaries, which were widely seen and are regarded as particularly important,
and a few works which, strictly speaking, are shorter than conventional feature
length. The listing is shown in Table 4.1.
Table 4.1
African Film Production
First Feature
[2 collectives]
Burkina Faso
Central African Rep
Ivory Coast
Sub-Saharan Africa Total
232 (48% first films)
Maghreb Total
356 (45% first films)
588 (46% first films)
First Feature
The tabulation of production to the end of 2004 allows us to see the strict
limitations in film output throughout the four areas in the forty years since
Sembene’s feature debut in 1966: on average barely two films per filmmaker,
and in total about fourteen films a year split between seventeen sovereign states
with a total population of over 166 million. Aside from Ousmane Sembene,
who has managed to combine nine completed feature films with a parallel
output of ten novels and volumes of short stories, only a handful of Maghrebian
filmmakers have been able to make a real career in African cinema. Perhaps
because of the paucity of output, it is seldom possible to trace any kind of creative development over time in the work of an African filmmaker. Few can be
said to have surpassed the qualities of their first features in their later work
(though some have undoubtedly equalled it). As a result, in this study which
looks at major works, most of the films discussed are debut features, with all
the particular excitements and constraints that this implies. Indeed, over half
of all francophone African filmmakers north and south of the Sahara have
failed to complete a second feature. Where a second feature film has been completed, this has often been long delayed: twenty years (1982–2002) for Kollo
Daniel Sanou from Burkina Faso, twenty-one years (1972–93) for the Algerian
Djafar Damardjji, twenty-two years (1980–2002) for the Tunisian Abdellatif
Ben Ammar, twenty-five years (1970–95) for the Moroccan Hamid Benani. For
this reason, the order of discussion of a filmmaker is in accordance with the
decade in which s/he made a first feature or switched to a radically difference
form of filmmaking.
Gaps similar to those in individual careers occur in the ‘national’ outputs of
Sub-Saharan states, with no films between 1985 and 1999 for Benin, between
1982 and 1995 for Congo, or between 1978 and 1999 for Gabon. Even if we
treat the Sub-Saharan states as a single block, the average output is still less than
six feature films a year, and there are only three years when the collective output
rose above ten films a year (twelve features were produced in 1982, and eleven
in both 1992 and 2002). The same pattern is largely true of the Maghreb, where
Algeria averages under three features a year and peaked at eleven features in
1972 and twelve in 1982, and Morocco averages just over three features a year
and has reached ten only twice (in 1982 and 1995). The smallest Maghrebian
cinema, Tunisia, averages just over two films a year and reached its highest
annual figure (seven) in 2002. Since much of this tiny output – even some of the
work of the most prestigious filmmakers – is partly shaped by the exigencies of
French aid or international co-production requirements, to talk of indigenous
‘film industries’ is meaningless. Even to talk of ‘national cinemas’ is hazardous
(and a concept many filmmakers would deny). For this reason the following
chapters concentrate largely either on broad developments that involve filmmakers from the whole range of countries (Chapters 5 to 8) or on the work of
some of the younger directors, born after independence and chosen for the
individuality of their distinctive personal styles and approaches (Chapters 9
to 14).
There are certain uniform production constraints on all filmmakers throughout the four geographical areas. Almost always, the filmmaker has to take on
the triple role of producer-director-writer, and s/he will often take on another
role or two as well: as editor, composer of the film score or lead actor, for
example. Putting a project together is a complex activity, involving liaison with
state authorities and private sector organisations, local and international
funding bodies, as well as indigenous and foreign television companies. Even
when – as in the nationalised film sector in Algeria up to the mid-1980s – it
would seem that the state has taken on the production role, the direct responsibility has usually been put back onto the director. This is clear from Mohamed
Chouikh’s account of his experience working for the state film organisation
ONCIC in Algeria:
Until Youssef, my principal producer was the Algerian state organisation.
Its function was generally limited to that of a letter-box, because you had
to do everything yourself: bring together aid and financing and then hand
over the management of this to the organisation, in exchange for a
derisory salary. Nevertheless it had the power of life or death over the
film’s production.22
In all four areas, filmmakers have similar backgrounds, generally being
members of an educated bilingual élite. Often their education in their native
countries has been supplemented by university education or technical training abroad, and a surprising number have higher degrees or doctorates, in
addition to formal film school qualifications. Ousmane Sembene’s background as mechanic, carpenter and mason in Senegal and as factory worker,
longshoreman and trade union organiser in France makes him virtually
unique among African filmmakers. A more usual background is that of his
Senegalese contemporary Paulin Soumanou Vieyra: boarding school in France
from the age of ten, a spell studying biology at the University of Paris and
then three years training at the Parisian film school IDHEC, where he graduated in 1955.
Over half of all filmmakers north and south of the Sahara have formal film
school training and generally this has been been received abroad, in Europe.
There are only two established training centres in Africa: the Ghanaian Film
School and the Cairo Higher Institute of Cinema. No francophone filmmakers
have been trained in Ghana and only two Moroccans – neither of them a major
figure (Hassan Moufti and Imane Mesbahi) – are Cairo graduates. By contrast,
dozens of African filmmakers are graduates of the major European film schools:
the French IDHEC, CLCF and more recently FEMIS, the Belgian school INSAS,
FAMU in Prague, the Polish school at Lodz, the Moscow-based Soviet institute
VGIK, and so on. There have been two unsuccessful attempts to establish a film
school in francophone Africa. But the Algerian school established at Ben Aknoun
in Algiers in 1964, the INC, closed after an abbreviated course with just one
intake of students (though these included future feature directors Merzak
Allouache, Farouk Beloufa and Sid Ali Mazif). A more ambitious attempt to set
up a pan-African training institution, INAFEC, began in Burkina Faso in 1976.
INAFEC received funding from UNESCO, was attached to the University of
Ouagadougou and among its graduates were three of the leading Burkina Faso
directors, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Dani Kouyaté and Régina Fanta Nacro, but it
closed inside a decade.
It is impossible, of course, to make precise divisions between filmmakers on
the basis of their date of birth, since the ages at which they make their first film
vary widely. The Tunisian Ferid Boughedir was just twenty-six when he
co-directed his first feature, as was Jean-Pierre Bekolo from Cameroon when
he made Quartier Mozart. In contrast, two documentarists, the Senegalese
Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and the Moroccan Abdelmajid Rchich, were fifty-six
and fifty-eight respectively at their fictional feature film debuts. But certain generalisations are possible, since the age profiles of filmmakers in all four areas
north and south of the Sahara are remarkably similar and it is instructive to
align African filmmakers in terms of their age in relation to the date of national
independence (1956 for Morocco and Tunisia, 1958 for Guinea, 1960 for the
other Sub-Saharan states and 1962 for Algeria).
If we compare the statistics concerning the 153 Maghrebian and 100 SubSaharan filmmakers whose birth dates are known, we find that in both cases
there is a small number of filmmakers (fifty-three in all, just over a fifth of the
total) who were born in 1940 or before. If we take twenty to be the age of adulthood, these future filmmakers were adults at the time of independence. Among
this group we find most of the key figures in the first years of African cinema:
Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina and Ahmed Rachedi in Algeria, Omar Khlifi
in Tunisia, Med Hondo in Mauritania, Ousmane Sembene in Senegal and
Souleymane Cisse in Mali among them. Though only a few were directly
involved in the liberation struggle, a concern with the anti-colonial struggle as
well as the harsh contradictions of emerging post-independence societies is
common in their films. Though state censorship tends to limit what they can say
directly, they are often extremely critical of the ways in which African societies
have developed.
Over 60 per cent of all filmmakers North and South of the Sahara (about 158
in total) were born between the early 1940s and the end of the 1950s and so
were teenagers or children when independence was acquired. The characterisation of these younger Arab filmmakers of his own generation made by Nouri
Bouzid (himself born in 1944, eighteen years before Tunisian independence)
can also be applied to filmmakers south of the Sahara, many of whom were
brought up as Muslims:
Born in the 1940s, they grew up on Nasserite slogans. Then they tasted
defeat [the 1967 Israeli war], then experienced the May 1968 student
movement in Europe, then learnt about democracy and discovered international cinema. When they returned home, they were full of hopes and
dreams. But the harsh reality hit them in the face: no resources, no market,
no freedom of expression.23
Many of this generation have continued to concern themselves with social issues
treated in a generally realistic manner (one thinks, for example, of the Moroccans
Jillali Ferhati, Hakim Noury and Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi). But it is also to
this generation that we owe the stylistic renewal and move towards both abstraction and interiority which occurred from the mid-1980s onwards. The key figures
in this group – Bouzid himself and Ferid Boughedir in Tunisia, Merzak Allouache
and Mohamed Chouikh in Algeria, Gaston Kabore and Idrissa Ouedraogo in
Burkina Faso, Djibril Diop Mambety in Senegal and Cheikh Oumar Sissoko in
Mali among them – are the filmmakers who have given us both a new sense of
the individual African experience and some of the cinema’s most vivid evocations
of a perhaps nostalgically viewed African past from which the coloniser is absent.
It is the very diverse work of these two founding generations which forms the
subject matter for the following four chapters.
There are also some forty filmmakers who were born after independence,
making up some 17 per cent of the overall total of francophone African filmmakers. Within this generation we have a wide variety of voices, some of which
are analysed individually in the latter chapters of this study. Though few have
made more than a couple of features there are major talents already apparent
here: Nabil Ayouch from Morocco, Raja Amari from Tunisia, Abderrahmane
Sissako from Mauritania, Mahamat Saleh Haroun from Chad, Dani Kouyaté
from Burkina Faso, and Jean-Pierre Bekolo from Cameroon among them. There
is an interesting contrast between these younger filmmakers and their elders,
noted by Melissa Thackway.24 After completing their film training in Europe and
making their debut films from a base there, the filmmakers of the 1960s and
1970s always intended to return to settle in Africa and usually did so. The new
post-independence generation, by contrast, mostly comprises filmmakers permanently based in Europe (some were indeed born there) who visit Africa largely
when they are shooting their films. Given the current forces of globalisation and
pressures towards cultural hybrity present in twenty-first-century world cinema,
this group must struggle to avoid one of the pitfalls for the ‘native intellectual’
predicted by Frantz Fanon, namely that of becoming ‘individuals without an
anchor, without a horizon, colourless, stateless, rootless – a race of angels’.25
1. Raphaël Millet, ‘(In)dépendance des cinémas du Sud &/vs France’, Paris:
Théorème 5, 1998, p. 163.
2. Berthin Nzélomona (ed.), La Francophonie (Paris: L’Harmattan/Recherches
Africaines 5, 2001), p. 8.
3. J. Barrat, cited in N’Zelomona, La Francophonie, p. 10.
4. Millet, ‘(In)dépendance’, p. 164.
5. élomona, La Francophonie, p. 27.
6. Millet, ‘(In)dépendance’, p. 159.
7. Jacques Gérard, in Jacques J. Maarek (ed.), Afrique noire: quel cinéma? (Paris:
Association du Cinéclub de l’Université de Paris X, 1983), p. 35.
8. Jean-René Debrix, interview, in Guy Hennebelle and Catherine Ruelle, Cinéastes de
l’Afrique noire (Paris: Fespaco/CinémAction 3/L’Afrique littéraire et artistique 49,
1978), p. 153.
9. Millet, ‘(In)dépendance’, p. 167
10. Andrade-Watkins, Claire, ‘France’s Bureau of Cinema: Financial and Technical
Assistance between 1961 and 1977’, Framework 38–9, (London: 1992), p. 28.
11. Debrix, interview, p. 154.
12. Ibid., p. 156.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid., p. 155.
15. Jean-Michel Frodon (ed.), Au Sud du Cinéma (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma/Arte
Editions, 2004), pp. 200–51.
16. Teresa Hoefert de Turégano, African Cinema and Europe: Close-up on Burkina
Faso (Florence: European Press Academic, 2005), p. 10.
17. Andrée Davanture, ‘Le lâchage d’Atria’, interview, in Samuel Lelièvre (ed.),
Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert? (Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction
106, 2003), p. 73.
18. Millet, ‘(In)dépendance’, p. 162.
19. Turégano, African Cinema and Europe, p. 119.
20. Millet, ‘(In)dépendance’, p. 142.
21. Dominique Wallon, cited in Lelièvre, Cinémas africains, p. 63.
22. Mohamed Chouikh, interview, in Camille Taboulay, Le Cinéma métaphorique de
Mohamed Chouikh (Paris: K Films Editions, 1997), p. 66.
23. Nouri Bouzid, ‘New Realism in Arab Cinema: The Defeat-Conscious Cinema’, in
Ferial J. Ghazoul (ed.), Arab Cinematics: Towards the New and the Alternative
(Cairo: Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 15, 1995), pp. 246–7.
24. Melissa Thackway, Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan
Francophone African Film (London: James Currey, 2003), p. 135.
25. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967),
p. 175.
African cinema connects the past and the future of Africa . . . History and
tradition in Africa, and particularly in African cinema, are the equivalent
not of oak trees, but grasslands; they provide sustenance for a way of life,
but they also spread across the land in a complex, interwoven pattern.
This complexity allows for movement, for change.
Teshome H. Gabriel1
Cinema plays an essential role because it is a means of education, information, awareness and at the same time an incentive to creativity.
The achievement of such objectives means a questioning of the African
movie-maker or the image he has of himself, of the nature of his function,
of his social status, and in general of his situation in society.
The Algiers Charter of African Cinema, 19742
One way of examining the issues raised by the development of African cinema
in the course of the three ‘generations’ defined in the previous chapter would be
to deal with them in terms of a simple realist/modernist dichotomy. There is
much to be said for such an approach, but there are difficulties in applying terms
with such distinct Western connotations to African culture, and the approach
perhaps overemphasises differences, where continuities are also equally important. The approach adopted here is to consider African filmmakers in terms of
the subject which concerns them all, that of their African cultural identity. As
Raphaël Millet points out, because of the heritage of colonisation and the
present reality of dependence ‘the cinemas of the South inevitably have to
discourse about identity as much as about independence’.3
Stuart Hall’s definitions in his article on ‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic
Representation’ offer an extremely useful way of approaching this question of
identity. As Hall rightly observes, ‘identity is not as transparent or unproblematic
as we think’. Instead of thinking of identity ‘as an already accomplished historical fact, which the new cinematic discourses then represent, we should think,
instead, of identity as a “production”, which is never complete, always in process,
and always constituted within, not outside representation’.4 Hall goes on to contrast two ways of thinking about cultural identity, distinguishing between those
who see it as a matter of ‘being’ and those for whom it is a matter of ‘becoming’.
The first position defines cultural identity in terms of ‘the idea of one, shared
culture . . . which people with a shared history and identity hold in common’.5
The second position focuses more on ‘critical points of deep and significant difference which constitute what we really are’: rather – since history has intervened
– ‘what we have become’.6
The first approach characterises the bulk of African filmmakers of all generations. On the whole, they have assumed – to quote Hall once more – that our
cultural identities reflect ‘the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which provide us, as “one people”, with stable, unchanging and
continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions
and vicissitudes of our actual history’.7 Hence they have assumed that their
task is to ‘discover, excavate, bring to light and express through cinematic representation’8 a national identity conceived as having been buried during the
long years of colonial rule. The approach, combining a realist style and a tone
of social criticism adopted by the first generation of African filmmakers, has
provided a model for many of those who have followed them through into
the 2000s, though with a steady lessening of the didacticism of early African
Exploring the realities that surrounded them and communicating these via
the screen seemed initially the key demands made on filmmakers. Over the first
two decades of African filmmaking, there is a certain continuity with the mood
of the 1960s – exemplified by the writings of Frantz Fanon – which sought a
new awareness of national identity in all countries emerging from colonial rule.
Initially the experience of anti-imperial struggles led to a simple equation of
independence and nationalism, and intellectuals of all kinds felt it their duty to
speak directly to their fellow citizens about these matters. In this sense they represent the third level of Fanon’s ‘panorama on three levels’ of the returning
native intellectual, namely ‘the fighting phase’ when ‘he turns himself into an
awakener of the people; hence comes a fighting literature, a revolutionary literature, and a national literature’.9 The realities of post-independence Africa
have subsequently led many to question this equation. But for the pioneer filmmakers initially considered here, who all began their careers in the 1960s – one
Senegalese, two Algerians and one Tunisian – this stance not only shaped their
first films, but also continued to mark their work throughout their careers.
Much the same focus on social issues characterises the wider range of filmmakers north and south of the Sahara whose careers began in the 1970s.
The 1960s Pioneers
What interests the founder of African cinema, the French-language novelist
turned filmmaker Ousmane Sembene (born 1923 in Senegal), is ‘exposing the
problems confronting my people. I consider the cinema a means of political
action’.10 Sembene’s career as a filmmaker over some forty years has been exemplary, both in following this agenda and in its productivity: nine feature films
and a number of shorts, accompanied by an equally impressive output of seven
novels and three books of short stories (some of which he has translated to
film). Sembene began his career with an incisive short film on the problems of
post-independence Senegal, Borom Sarret (1962), and followed it with three
features, all adapted from his own published French-language stories. All
adopted a similar line, focusing on the plight of the individual, depicted in his
or her defining physical surroundings, but not probed psychologically.
Black Girl/La Noire de . . . (1966) is a sixty-minute film dealing with a subject
widely treated in the early years of African cinema: alienation. It follows the
experience of a Senegalese maid who achieves her greatest ambition when her
employers take her with them to France. But France does not live up to her
expectations and, though she suffers no real brutality, she feels increasingly
lonely and exploited. After a quarrel with her employers, she kills herself by slitting her throat. The film ends with the husband taking her belongings back to
Dakar (perhaps, as Sembene suggests, hoping to hire a new maid at the same
time).11 Black Girl was shot without sound (for budget reasons), in black and
white, and with a documentary-style simplicity. The shaping of the narrative is
similarly pared down, built around simple binary oppositions: France/Senegal,
black/white, mistress/servant. It begins with the maid’s arrival in France, followed by flashbacks to Dakar to explain how she got there. Thereafter the film
proceeds in strictly chronological manner towards its inevitable ending, making
no use of the techniques of suspense and with only a touch of visual symbolism
(the mask which changes hands several times). Similarly the modernist possibilities of setting the images of the Diola-speaking maid against a voice-over of her
thoughts in polished French are totally ignored. Instead Sembene uses the device
as a storytelling prop, as he struggles with limited resources to create a realist
text in the manner of his novels and stories.
In contrast, The Money Order/Mandabi (1968), shot in colour and with
better resources, is a lively if somewhat uncomfortable comedy, which offers a
sharply focused critique of post-independence African society. Because of the
demands of the co-producer (the French CNC), the film was made in a two
separate versions: French and Wolof. The latter, Sembene’s preferred option,
caused him considerable difficulties, since the film had a French-language
source and a written French script with a tight dramatic structure which he was
keen to retain. Since Wolof at the time was not a written language, the dialogue
had to be largely improvised by Sembene and his bilingual actors. The plot is
triggered by the arrival from his nephew in France of a money order which
seems to promise wealth to Ibrahima, an pompous but uneducated man living
with his two wives in difficult traditional circumstances. The fact that the
minimal sum represents the savings of an exiled Parisian road sweeper adds to
the irony of the situation. Trying to cash the money order leads the illiterate
(and hence vulnerable) Ibrahima into alien parts of Dakar, where greedy
French-speaking bureaucrats and supposed helpers cheat and humiliate him.
The film allows Sembene to give an unequivocal portrait of the contradictions
of postcolonial Dakar, and the film ends with a muted plea for change. The
deeply conservative Ibrahima is an unlikely candidate for the role of revolutionary, since he prefers a traditional existence, in which ‘modern’ issues, like
questioning polygamy and facing up to the challenges of a cash economy, can
be ignored. But the film as a whole reveals Sembene’s own views on these
matters with striking clarity, as he depicts Dakar as a city where traditional
values have no power and where literacy and a mastery of two languages is
merely a path to wealth and corruption. The film was widely welcomed in
France, but caused enough controversy in Senegal to prove that Sembene had
touched on truly sensitive issues.12
Xala (1974), adapted from a novel published the same year, is a savage indictment of the new ruling classes in Senegal (and elsewhere in Africa) who, with
independence, have refused to change society, but instead have merely taken
over the role of the French colonisers. Their situation is made clear in the
beautifully realised balletic opening scene, where each receives a briefcase
stuffed with banknotes from the French who retain their control, though they
now act from the shadows. The film’s protagonist, El Hadj Abou Kader, forms
part of this new élite and lives an affluent life. He celebrates by marrying a third
wife, Ngone (who is younger than his daughter Rama), but on his wedding
night he is afflicted with temporary sexual impotence (the ‘xala’ of the title),
resulting from the curse of a beggar he has dispossessed. His efforts to cope with
this and to find a cure, lead to financial ruin, marital break-up and expulsion
from the élite, in which he is replaced by a pickpocket who has grown affluent.
When a marabout does affect a cure, El Hadj’s problems seem to be over, but
the cheque with which he pays bounces, and the curse is restored. This time it
can be lifted only by ritual humiliation, as El Hadj is forced to strip and submit
to the beggars spitting on him, in full view of his family.
In addition to its use of impotence as both symbol and source of black humour,
Xala is full of genuinely brilliant comic touches (such as El Hadj having his
Mercedes washed with imported Evian water) and sharp social observation (the
differentiation between the three wives is a vivid representation of the changing
role of women over three generations). But above all, it is for its pitiless dissection of its (unnamed) African setting that the film is remarkable. As Laura
Mulvey observes, Sembene uses the language of cinema ‘to create a kind of
poetics of politics’, giving visibility to ‘the forms, as opposed to the content, of
social contradiction and then, through the forms, illuminates the content.13
Sembene’s subsequent trio of films about the colonial past – Emitai (1971),
Ceddo (1977) and Camp de Thiaroye (1988) – were all made from original
scripts and, in a very original way, show a concern to tell history in terms of
groups rather than individuals. Emitai depicts two assaults by French colonial
troops on an Diola village community, the first to persuade one of the young
men of the village, who has fled into the forest, to return and to do his military
service, the second to find and confiscate the year’s harvest of rice, needed by the
French to feed their troops. The film does not focus on the obvious protagonist
from a Western viewpoint: Badji, a young African recruit, regarded by his
European superiors as the finest black NCO in the district and, by chance, a
native of this particular village. Instead of focusing on Badji’s personal concerns,
Sembene is concerned with the depiction of social forces: the conflict between
traditional culture and colonialism and the role of group solidarity in shaping
political events. Hence Sembene offers us a new, non-Western, film dramaturgy.The conflict is told almost exclusively in terms of spatial oppositions
between groups. The primary opposition is, of course, between colonisers and
villagers. The traditional division of labour (the women growing the rice, the
men acting as warriors) is translated into spatial terms through the separation
of the two groups. The women, who have hidden the rice in the forest, are held
captive in the village square. The men, denied access to them, become locked in
debate at the shrine of the gods who seem to have deserted them, and this gives
rise to a division within their ranks (between fighters and appeasers). It is
between such groups – and not between individual figures who represent them
or embody their values – that the drama is acted out. The focus is unflinchingly
on the central conflict of colonisers and villagers, presented without the personalisation of issues which invariably colours Western treatments of the themes
of repression and colonial brutality.
Ceddo shows the way in which an individualistic revolt, which in the West
would be a focus of attention, can in African cinema lead not just to marginalisation, but even to literal exclusion from the narrative. Early on, Madior Fatima
Fall, the king’s nephew, is a key figure, since under traditional African law he is
the king’s heir. When he loses this position under the newly imposed Muslim
law, he flamboyantly renounces his adopted Muslim faith. But though he reverts
to traditional garb, he is now excluded from any role in the community and
his words at the king’s council go unheeded. Though – in Western terms – he
embodies in his person so many of the key aspects of the film’s conflicts, his role
in Sembene’s film is effectively extinguished as soon as he loses his role within
the community. When the imam takes over in the name of Allah, Madior Fatima
Fall simply vanishes from the last forty-five minutes of the narrative, in which,
as a mere individual, he now has no part to play.14 The use of a group, rather
than an individual protagonist, inevitably results in a slow and measured pace
and rhythm. While an individual’s life can be subject to rapid change, groups
shift much more slowly over time, in response to long-term social, economic and
political forces.
Set in 1944, Camp de Thiaroye (1988) is another group portrait, but of
a more conventional kind. This time a squad of tirailleurs (African soldiers who
fought for France) return to colonial Africa, their independent spirit symbolised by their US uniforms and boots. Initially, they are warmly welcomed at the
reception camp, but step by step they are cheated and humiliated by the French
who want to reduce them to ‘natives’. Eventually the frustrated tirailleurs seize
a French general and attempt to negotiate. When he gives his word of honour,
they release him, but of course he cannot tolerate such a humiliation and at 3am
he sends in his tanks. The film ends with a fresh group of African recruits being
led off to fight France’s battles in Europe. Camp de Thiaroye has clear thematic
links with Sembene’s earlier works and the same strong anti-colonial stance.
But the action is predictable and, at two hours twenty minutes running time,
somewhat ponderous. Though most critics have accepted the film as basically
a true story and a revealing tale of French colonial rule, two US critics have
drawn attention to supposed historical inaccuracies. Kenneth W. Harrow
argues that the soldiers in the tanks were themselves Senegalese,15 and Josef
Gugler, while seeming to support Harrow’s doubts, states categorically that ‘as
to the tanks, the French had none in West Africa in 1944’.16
Sembene’s three final films, all released after he had reached the age of sixtynine, form a loose trilogy of ‘stories of everyday heroism’. They are very mixed
in their themes and impact, but all are directed in the same straightforward
manner (a chronological narrative interspersed with clearly marked flashbacks
or dream sequences). They are essentially celebratory works, with the biting
satire of Sembene’s earlier studies of contemporary life largely missing, even
when religion and superstition are confronted. Unlike the earlier literary adaptations, Guelwaar (1992) was from an original script, later turned into a novel
by Sembene and published in this form in 1996, with the inscription: ‘An African
fable of twenty-first century Africa, dedicated to the children of the continent’.
As David Murray has observed, while many in the West have become pessimistic
about the possibility of finding solutions to Africa’s problems, Sembene ‘remains
resolutely committed to his Marxist ideals and his work has continued to
address, in a more or less direct manner, the political and social questions facing
modern Africa’.17 This is reflected here in his rejection of international aid programmes for Africa. Guelwaar traces the difficulties that arise between two
communities when the body of a Christian activist, Pierre Henri Thioune
(known as Guelwaar), is mistakenly buried in a Muslim cemetery. As the dispute
grows, the social divisions of Senegal are revealed. So too (through a series of
flashbacks) are the contradictions of Guelwaar’s own life (such as his refusal of
foreign aid, but willingness to live off his daughter’s earnings as a prostitute).
Despite his Marxist beliefs, Sembene is respectful towards the Christian community but less so towards the Muslim villagers, shown as both deluded and
violent. The outcome is a very muted victory for tolerance: those who struggle
for peace are all rebuked by their superiors, and the credit for success is claimed
by a leading local politician, who hands out international food aid as if it were
a personal present. Sembene’s later style allows little scope for ambiguity or suspense, but this is a serious and committed piece of filmmaking.
Faat-Kine (2000) focuses on the status of women in contemporary Senegal.
In Sembene’s view, ‘Without women, Africa has no future. But poverty and
globalisation affect them more’.18 The protagonist, Faat-Kine, is a woman who
was born in the year of Senegal’s independence and, despite many difficulties,
has worked her way up to owning a petrol station. On the day her two children
pass their baccalaureate, she remembers her past life and the men who have successively let her down (in clearly marked flashbacks). In the present, she copes
with immediate daily challenges, giving the men from her past their meuppance,
and takes herself a new husband. The film as a whole has the air of a lively,
well-plotted, largely French-language television soap opera.
Moolade (2002), shot in Burkina Faso with a crew drawn from all over
Africa, is a more substantial film, in which the peace of a village is disturbed by
the arrival of four little girls fleeing a female excision ceremony. They are given
refuge (the ‘moolade’ of the title) by the forceful Collé Ardo, who had preserved
her own daughter, Amsatou, from mutilation years earlier. The traditionally
minded village elders, however, side with the troop of seven women excisers
and try to combat the new ideas, even having Collé Ardo publicly flogged by
her husband. The chaos in the village is witnessed by an outsider (the ex-soldierturned-trader Mercenaire) whose eventual intervention results in his own
killing by a mob of villagers. But the village women maintain their solidarity
against the traditional barbarity (practised still in thirty-eight of the fifty-four
states in the African Union), and they even win a few men to their cause. The
film ends with a virtual propaganda pageant, as the women defiantly dance and
chant their refusal of traditional ways. In the clash of two traditions (excision
and sanctuary) is is very clear where Sembene stands, in a film that echoes the
explicit didacticism of his earliest work, such as Black Girl.
Turning to the Maghreb in the 1960s, the situation in post-independence
Algeria was, as Réda Bensmaïa has pointed out, extremely challenging for
artists and intellectuals in the aftermath of the war of liberation. On the one
hand, there were ‘popular masses so uprooted from their culture that the very
idea of a “public” seemed to be a luxury or, at best, a difficult goal to attain’.19
On the other, there were artists who had to decide which elements to use in the
attempt to rebuild a national culture: ‘The forgotten past? The ruins of popular
memory? Folklore? Tradition? None of these carried within it enough force and
cohesion to allow it to be a stable anchor for a national culture worthy of the
name’.20 But for the pioneer Algerian filmmakers of the 1960s the choice was
comparatively simple, since several of this group of directors had close personal
links with the liberation struggle. The Frenchmen René Vautier and Jacques
Charby were both FLN activists, Ahmed Rachedi (born 1938) had collaborated
with Vautier in the army film unit, while Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina (born
1934) had worked in the provisional government’s film unit in exile in Tunis.
Mohamed Slim Riad (born 1932) was even able to use his own experiences as
a detainee in France as the basis for his first feature, The Way/La Voie (1968).
These filmmakers’ desire to deal with the colonial past coincided precisely with
the needs and demands of the new government of Houari Boumediene, who
had seized power in a military coup in 1965.
The two key films of the 1960s in Algeria are Rachedi’s Dawn of the
Damned/L’Aube des damnés (1965), a brilliantly edited compilation film which
showed the often violent images of the anti-colonial struggle throughout Africa
which the Algerians had been unable to see during the years of French rule, and
Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina’s The Wind from the Aurès/Le Vent des Aurès
(1966), a masterly study of a family destroyed by the war. As Miloud Mimoun
has observed, ‘The sequence where the mother in Lakhdar Hamina’s The Wind
from the Aurès moves along the barbed-wire fence, behind which the tormented
and resolute faces of the Algerian prisoners are lined up, resumes, in a single tracking shot, all the elements of a dramaturgy which History has summoned up’.21
In the late 1960s and the 1970s both Rachedi and Lakhdar Hamina made
further significant films about the liberation, this time with big budgets.
Rachedi’s Opium and the Stick/L’Opium et le bâton (1969) was adapted from
a novel by Mouloud Mammeri. The film, which begins in Algiers under French
oppression, follows its doctor protagonist, Bachir Lazrak, back to a remote
Kabyle village where his family is divided: his younger brother is fighting with
the FLN, while his elder brother collaborates with the French. The events
leading to the destruction of the village are shaped for full dramatic effect, but
Rachedi has admitted to ‘weaknesses and concessions to the audience’.22 The
effect is to simplify a complex novel, omitting ‘the anguish, the contradictions
and the lucid though desperate commitment of an Algerian intellectual to the
war’.23 The use of the Arab language for the Berber protagonists also serves the
state’s ideological desire to depict Algeria as a unified, totally Arab entity.
Lakhdar Hamina followed two lesser films about the the anti-colonial struggle – Hassan terro (1968), a comic tale of an insignificant little man caught up
in the resistance by accident, and December/Décembre (1972), which told the
story through the eyes of a French officer – with what is generally recognised
as his masterpiece, Chronicle of the Years of Embers/Chronique des années de
braise (1975). This epic film, which was the first Arab or African film to win
the Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival, was made – at a cost estimated to
be equivalent to a dozen ordinary Algerian features – to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Algerian war of liberation on 1 November 1954.
Shot in a 70mm format, the film is technically remarkable, but the use of a lush
Hollywood-style score by Frenchman Philippe Arthuys denies it a specifically
national feel. Tracing events in the years up to 1954, the narrative entwines two
parallel stories: that of the wise madman (played with enormous gusto by the
director himself), and that of Ahmed, a totally mythologised figure, who is successively uneducated peasant, skilled craftsman and legendary swordsman.
Lakhdar Hamina describes the film as a ‘personal vision’24 – which allows
awkward historical facts to be elided – and oddly for a film aimed to be an epic
of the national consciousness, it ends with the parallel deaths of both protagonists, just as the struggle for liberation finally gets underway. Chronicle of the
Years of Embers is a striking, if mystificatory, film, more a work of lyrical
protest than a lucid historical study.25
Lakhdar Hamina was unable to capture the same impact in his subsequent
work, though both his 1980s films showed the desire to find an international
audience. Sand Storm/Vent de sable (1983) is the story of an isolated rural community torn apart by male violence and characterised by the suffering of its
women. By contrast, The Last Image/La Dernière image (1986) is, according
to Lakhdar Hamina, an autobiographical piece, an evocation of his own childhood experience. Set in an Algerian village in 1939, on the eve of the outbreak
of the Second World War, it shows the disruption caused in the village by the
arrival of a new teacher from the metropolis, Mademoiselle Boyer.
Rachedi’s later career is perhaps more successful. He offered an insightful
view of immigrant life in Paris in Ali in Wonderland/Ali au pays des mirages
(1979). In it, the protagonist shares a tiny apartment with two friends and very
strict rules: no women, no animals, no visits, no heating, no kitchen smells and
no Arab music. His job is as a crane operator, and from his lofty perch he works
out his own philosophy:
Open your eyes and look at them, but don’t go so far as to judge them.
Your view is superficial. They’ve looked at us too, without trying to
understand us. And that’s how the gulf between us has come about. Look,
but don’t rush to judge them.
When Ali does attempt to intervene, in order to try to save a man he has seen
suffer a heart attack, he is treated as the outsider responsible for the death – the
killer – by the man’s white neighbours. Five years later Rachedi satirised the
FLN post-independence bureaucracy in the wonderfully acerbic Monsieur
Fabre’s Mill/Le Moulin de M. Fabre (1984), his last film to date. Set a year after
independence in a remote town where the biggest problems are a cow falling
down a well and the goalkeeper of the local team falling unhappily in love, the
film shows the repercussions of a planned visit by a dignitary from Algiers. Life
is turned upside down, the run-down old mill owned by an Algerian-born
French supporter of the FLN is pointlessly nationalized, and huge disputes are
provoked between locals and the officials who have been sent from Algiers to
create a wholly fictive image of the town. The distance between a centralised
bureaucracy wanting to apply socialist principles and a rural community yet to
receive the slightest sign of progress could not be wider. The film is a savage but
often very funny satire on the processes of Algerian government.
There is an echo of the Algerian approach in the work in Tunisia of the
pioneer Omar Khlifi (born 1934), who came from the Tunisian amateur film
movement without formal professional training and worked initially in a
context of government indifference. Khlifi made a loose trilogy set at various
stages of the Tunisian ‘revolution’: The Dawn/L’Aube (1966), was set in 1954,
with an epilogue showing the return to Tunis of the nationalist leader Habib
Bourguiba on 1 June 1955; The Rebel/Le Rebelle (1968) looked back to the
internal struggle against tyranny in the 1860s; and The Fellagas/Les Fellagas
(1970) traced stages in the liberation struggle and post-independence conflict
with the French from 1951 to 1961. Unlike his more committed contemporaries,
Khlifi wanted to make films which both ‘revive and renew our national identity’
and ‘have a meaning for the Tunisian people, a connection with its history’, and
at the same time constitute ‘entertaining spectacles’.26 After a study of women’s
oppression, Screams/Hurlements (1972), widely considered his best film, there
was a fourteen-year break before his final return to filmmaking and his old
subject matter with the resistance tale, The Challenge/Le Défi (1986).
The 1970s
In the 1970s the ranks of filmmakers both north and south of the Sahara were
reinforced by further, often younger, recruits, who tended to turn away from
the past and to explore instead the realities of contemporary post-independence
society. Most were unconcerned with formal experiment. Questioning the
world that confronted them was usually felt to be more important than devising innovative narrative structures (though, as we shall see in Chapter 6, a few
key figures of this generation did try both approaches).
The three major figures to emerge in francophone West Africa were the Parisbased Mauritanian Med Hondo, the Malian Souleymane Cisse and the
Senegalese woman director, Safi Faye. Hondo, born in Mauritania in 1936 but
resident in Paris since 1969, began his career with the highly innovative Soleil O
(1970). This is discussed in Chapter 7 as is his second fictional feature, West
Indies/West Indies ou les nègres marrons de la liberté (1979). Between these
two features, during the early 1970s, Hondo made a series of documentaries,
beginning with a huge (two and a half hours) and somewhat undisciplined mix
of fiction and documentary, The Black Wogs, Your Neighbours/Les Bicotsnègres, vos voisins (1973). This raises a whole range of issues about immigration, exploitation and culture (including the problems of African cinema). The
collage technique of bringing together in a largely unstructured manner elements of direct address, cinéma vérité and acted scenes is powerful. The film
ends with a roll-call of those killed in racially motivated incidents and an impassioned call for solidarity. Hondo then made two documentaries – the featurelength colour film We Have All of Death to Sleep/Nous avons toute la mort
pour dormir (1976) and Polisario – A People in Arms/Polisario, un peuple en
armes (1978) – about the struggle of the people of Western Sahara (the vast
desert space situated between Mauritania and Morocco), first for freedom from
Spanish colonial rule and then to avoid annexation by Morocco. These are
unashamed propaganda pieces for the Polisario Front, allowing the freedomfighters to put their own case and celebrating their cause with songs and dances.
Hondo’s third feature is Sarraounia (1986). The film, which was the result of
years of preparation and was eventually made thanks to support from both the
French and Burkina Faso governments, is set in the 1890s and based on a novel
by Abdoulaye Mamami. It has an epic dimension and was the first CinemaScope
film made in Sub-Saharan Africa. The production team was multinational and
the film multilingual (it uses Dioula, Peuhl, and Tamashek as well as French and
the pidgin French – what Hondo wittily calls petit blanc – of the French’s black
soldiers).27 Sarraounia chronicles the exemplary resistance of the pagan queen
of the Aznas to a powerful and well-armed French force which rampages across
the Africa, threatening all who stand in its path with killing, rape and burning.
But this is not just the story of an individual queen and her prowess: rather, it
charts the impact of the French invasion on a whole range of African peoples,
including the Muslims led by the Emir of Sokoto (who ally themselves to the
French) and the Tuaregs of the Sahara (whose lives are disrupted). Sarraounia
herself is less a remarkable military leader than a legendary figure who moves in
and out of the narrative, living in the songs of her griots (praise-singers) and
inspiring her followers as much by her reputation as by her presence. The scenes
of African ritual are treated in declamatory style as solemn tableaux, with a selfconscious frontality of setting. Rather than simply tell a single striking story,
Hondo spells out dramatically the collective unity of pagan and Islamic forces
against the vicious invading army, which disintegrates under the pressures
wrought by the overweening personal ambition of its French commander. The
director’s confident handling of his resources, his masterly sense of pace and
rhythm and his firm control of his epic sprawling narrative place him in the forefront of contemporary African filmmaking.
Sarraounia is Hondo’s masterpiece and if his subsequent work has had less
impact, it has been characteristically eclectic: Black Light/Lumière noire (1994)
about the French government’s illegal treatment of immigrants; Watani/Watani,
un monde sans mal (1997), a documentary collage about the impact of unemployment on white and black families in Paris; and Fatima/Fatima, l’Algérienne
de Dakar (2004), a fictional drama about events stemming from the rape of an
Algerian girl in 1957 by a Senegalese sub-lieutenant in the French forces
charged with ‘cleansing’ a mountain area of guerrillas.
Meanwhile, in Mali, Souleymane Cisse (born 1940) made a succession of
three ever more substantial films in the period 1975–82, all shaped by his seven
years of study at the Moscow film school, VGIK. This film training and education was important, since it allowed him to bring a critical gaze shaped by
Marxist concepts of class analysis to his first three feature-length studies of contemporary Mali. All three treat social issues: the problems of an unmarried
mother eventually driven to suicide in The Girl/Den muso (1975), the intermingling of lives divided by class but bound together by kinship in Work/Baara
(1977), and the role of students under a corrupt military regime in The
Wind/Finye (1982). Always there is a concern to offer a broad spectrum of contrasting attitudes, based on class and generation differences, and often the narratives are extremely complex in their exploration of the contradictions of
contemporary African society. The films offer richly detailed portrayals of their
settings and bring to the fore the physical aspects of life, whether it is the
workers toiling in the factory in Baara or the students smoking ganja in Finye.
But though Cisse shows this constant determination to offer a realistic picture
of African life, his realism does not preclude symbolic incidents and characters
(the heroine of Den muso is mute: old Kansaye in Finye become miraculously
invulnerable to bullets). Cisse’s work is increasingly shot through with imaginative moments of fantasy, such as some of the later scenes of Finye and all of
his fourth feature, Yeelen. But the early work, analytic but never schematic,
realistic but full of vivid drama, achieves the difficult feat of being both popular
with African audiences and informative about contemporary Mali and revelatory to a wider public outside Africa.
Just as his previous films were the first African films to confront directly the
lives of the urban working class, so too Finye is the first to look seriously at the
workings of power in an African society under military rule. Cisse’s young
student heroes live in a recognisably modern world, marked by the clash of
generations, the tensions of exam-taking in a corrupt educational system, a
frustrated anger when idealistic illusions are shattered, and a mix of commitment and betrayal when their solidarity is tested. For all their drug-taking and
campus-rioting, they retain an essential innocence, as Cisse has created
complex figures who can reflect fully the ambiguities of the time. Moreover, he
is careful to put the young in a context which sets them against the traditional
values and beliefs of Africa. Though the bulk of the film is shot with a close and
precisely focused realism and its message is addressed to the present, Cisse does
not remain at this purely observational level. His social analysis is sufficiently
rich to contain purely symbolic acts, such as the emblematic images of innocence and purification at the beginning and end of the film. Similarly, his style
is subtle enough to shift effortlessly into dream sequences or even moments of
literal unreality. The title, Finye, denotes ‘the wind’, and the wind which blows
through Finye is the force of change which awakens men’s minds. After this
international success, Cisse’s career took a remarkable shift with the making of
his best known film, Yeelen (1987), a truly innovative film which is considered
in Chapter 7.
Cisse’s subsequent return to a realist style is more controversial. Waati (1995)
is one of three mid-1990s films made by francophone directors in South Africa
(the others being Jean-Pierre Bekolo and Idrissa Ouedraogo). This multilingual
film reflects the pan-Africanist aspirations of its origins in the epic story of the
growth to maturity of the heroine Nandi, whose travels embrace South African
apartheid, West African culture and Saharan starvation. But separated from his
Malian roots and the Bambara language, Cisse seems oddly ill at ease with the
many shifts and new directions taken by his narrative and unexpectedly naive
in his political assumptions.
In Senegal the key event in the 1970s was the emergence of West Africa’s first
woman director, Safi Faye (born 1943), who had studied both ethnography and
filmmaking in Paris and first became involved in cinema when she appeared in
Jean Rouch’s film, Petit à Petit. Letter From My Village/Kaddu beykat (1975)
is explicitly couched in letter form beginning with the customary opening greeting and inviting us ‘to spend a moment’ with the filmmaker and her family. It
ends with a dedication to her grandfather who figures in the film and died
eleven days after shooting ended. Letter From My Village has a unique tone, at
once personal and distanced, since Faye’s studies in Paris allow her to set her
immediate responses to the people of her village in the wider context of the
issues that shape their lives. The principal of these is the taxation which draws
the peasants into the cash economy, driving the young men to seek work in
town and making the villagers grow groundnuts for sale to the government
instead of food for themselves. In this personal portrait, Faye stresses the
importance of tradition and custom, the repetitive rhythm of the passing days
and the sense of community and mutual aid in the village. If the desire of two
young people to get married constitutes one important (fictionalised) element
in the film, a second is the daily ritual of assembly under the tree in the village,
when the men debate the issues of the day. Letter From My Village, with its
black-and-white images and sparse commentary gives a vivid picture of everyday African village life, exploring the different and complementary areas of
responsibility of men and women. Faye has explained that it is a document
which she sees as necessary to her own child (and her friends), so as not to deny
them their African identity.
In Fad’jal (1979), Faye made a second feature-length study of her home
village, again with assistance from the French Ministry of Cooperation but this
time in colour. The film concentrates on oral tradition and allows the villagers
to tell their stories and describe the problems they face in a changing world. The
film illustrates Amadou Hampaté Ba’s dictum that when an old man dies in
Africa, it is as if a library has burned down. Beti Ellerson notes that ‘returning
to her Serer community as researcher, she was amazed to find that the oral historians of her village could trace back seventeen generations to tell their
history’.28 Nine further shorter documentaries followed in the next decade
before Faye turned to fiction with the feature-length film, Mossane (1996).
Though drawing on Serer mythology and social customs, all aspects of the film
were imagined and staged by Faye. Made when her own daughter was fourteen, it is the story of a fourteen-year-old African girl who is beautiful, pure and
innocent. As Faye has explained:
I wanted the most beautiful woman to be an African girl . . . she looks as
if she does not belong to this world – because she is so beautiful. The
entire world loves her, including her brother. She is so pure and beautiful,
but she cannot stay in this world because the spirits who died or departed
long ago will come back to take her.29
Indeed Mossane’s death comes when she is prevented from marrying the one man
she truly loves and rejoins the ancestors. In her work Faye does not make rigid
divisions between fiction and documentary, but, as Ellerson notes, one element
has been constant throughout her career: ‘representing the realities of Africa’.30
Though Safi Faye was the first francophone African woman to complete
a feature film, there were two further features made by women directors within
two years: La Nouba (1978) by the Algerian novelist Assia Djebar (which is
discussed in Chapter 7), and Fatma 75 (1978), the first feature-length film
directed by a Tunisian woman, Selma Baccar (born 1945). This is a study of
women in Tunisian history which, like Faye’s early work, contains both documentary and enacted sequences. Baccar, who made a first fully fictional feature,
The Fire Dance/La Danse du feu, in 1995, has said of her first work that it is
addressed to women, and Tunisian women in particular’: ‘I hope to be able to
show it to those who don’t usually go to the cinema, to get out of the traditional
film circuit, to present it as a starting point for discussions with women.’31
The 1960s filmmakers in Algeria made striking films about the independence
struggle by choice, because the subject was of immediate concern to them. Hence
the power of many of the works produced. But subsequent younger filmmakers
were forced to chose the same subject matter, whether it concerned them or not.
The situation is made clear by Ahmed Rachedi, who was head of the monopoly
state production organization, ONCIC, from 1967 to 1973. While claiming in
a 1970 interview that ‘the Algerian filmmaker is king. Everyone can make the
film he wants, so long as he has something to say’, he added, from his administrative stance,
The first years of our cinema have been dedicated to the illustration of our
liberation struggle, which has been heroic. That allowed film makers to
acquire a revolutionary conscience. It was a stage and not an end. We will
make more films about the liberation struggle. One day we will begin a
cycle of social films. But given the stage we are at, every Algerian filmmaker must begin by making a film about the war.32
The first dozen or so Algerian features therefore all dealt with the war, as did
the debut sketches contributed by six newcomers to two 1960s fictional featurelength compilation films about the war. Conventionally structured war stories
continued to be made through the 1970s; indeed, they were still being made as
late as 1993, when the film editor Rachid Benallal directed his sole feature film,
Ya ouled.
In general Algerian critics have been harsh in their response to the majority
of the 1960s and 1970s war films. Ahmed Bedjaoui’s response is typical, when
he argues that the Algerian film ‘has practically never been able, in the course of
the ten years following independence, to make a work of history or to explain,
for example, who had chosen to fight and above all why’.33 When the focus of
Algerian film production shifted to the Agrarian Revolution in 1972, there was
a double emphasis: on the one hand, struggles during the colonial period, with
themes such as high taxation, land seizure, eviction and forcible military enlistment; on the other, studies of the contemporary situation, stressing the positive
new approaches. In general the studies of the contemporary situation were
muted because of production and censorship constraints (including self-censorship). But some of the studies of the colonial period were more forceful, the most
significant being Noua (1972), the only film of Abdelaziz Tolbi (born 1937). Set
in 1954, it details the oppressive impact of French colonial rule on the peasantry:
high taxation and imprisonment for those too poor to pay, eviction and seizure
of land, forcible enlistment in the army (to fight in Indo-China). Those directly
oppressing the peasants are wealthy Algerians – the caïds or chieftains – who
collaborate with the French. The film ends with their death at the hands of the
anti-colonial rebels who begin to make their first appearance as the narrative
unfolds. Claude Michel Cluny rightly says of Noua that it ‘remains one of the
most important films of the new Arab cinemas, one of those which demonstrate
that a small crew can make an epic film, a film which shows itself moreover to
be an incomparable cultural and political tool’.34
But in general the response of the Algerian filmmakers to their production
situation was to turn to the tried-and-tested formulas of classical Hollywood
narrative, with very mixed results. The dominant style of the state-run Algerian
cinema is a conscious didacticism, depicting total national unity in the liberation struggle and praising as incontestable the advantages of the proposed land
reforms of the 1970s. The style has inherent weaknesses: manicheanism, flawless heroes, stereotyped villains and predictable endings. In Lotfi Maherzi’s
eyes, however, the films did serve the ideological function of clouding the view
of the present: ‘The cult of heroes and epics about the liberation struggle, just
like commercial cinema, turns the Algerian spectator away from the new realities of his country, judged as lacking in contradiction’.35 It is hardly surprising
that Algerian audiences ‘could not recognise themselves in the deformed image
of the struggle offered by Algerian cinema’.36
The 1970s were also, as Ratiba Hadj-Moussa has observed, the years when
Algerian cinema ‘started dealing with social problems such as housing shortage, unemployment, and problems which faced the youth and women’ and also
when ‘the first images of Algerian postcolonial images were constructed’.37 Few
of these films had much impact on national or international audiences, but one
film which can be taken as representative is Leila and the Others/Leïla et les
autres (1978), directed by Sid Ali Mazif (born 1943). The film parallels the lives
of two women, the factory worker Leïla and the school girl Meriem, who live
in the same apartment block. The film does not minimise the male prejudice
which they experience in their everyday lives, but both emerge with their personal status enhanced, Leïla being a leading figure in a strike at the factory
where she works and Meriem refusing the marriage which her family wishes to
impose on her. The difficulties faced by women in Algerian society are vividly
displayed, but the film is in no way a critique of Algerian ‘socialist’ society: the
offending factory is a privately owned concern forced to face up to government
regulations on behalf of the workers. Leila and the Others is a social statement
perhaps, but in no way a social critique.
Tentative steps towards a socially committed cinema exploring contemporary issues were also made at the beginning of the 1970s in both Morocco and
Tunisia. A number of filmmakers (most of them with formal film school qualifications), whose later careers would go in different directions, were united in
the 1970s by the need to show a Maghrebian view of Maghrebian society. The
first significant film is IDHEC graduate Abdellatif Ben Ammar’s first feature,
Such a Simple Story/Une si simple histoire (1970), which anticipates the
approach of many 1970s directors. Ben Ammar commented that he wanted to
‘reflect on our civilisation, which we have often looked at through the gaze of
the other: the West’. 38 In his second film, Sejnane (1974), Ben Ammar set out
to ask one of the questions largely ignored by Algerian filmmakers: why does a
militant become a militant and not something else? Sejnane, set in 1952 at the
height of the opposition to the French, traces a double story of defeat. Kemal,
radicalised when he reads his murdered father’s diary, is killed fighting on
behalf of striking miners, while Anissa, the woman he loves, submits to a forced
marriage to an older, richer man. The intercut sequences of their matched fates
give the film its powerful climax.
Subsequently a sequence of films was produced in Tunisia and Morocco, each
of which looked with real passion at one specific aspect of post-independence
Maghrebian society. In And Tomorrow?/Et demain? (1972), directed by
another Tunisian IDHEC graduate Brahim Babaï (born 1936), the focus was
on drought and the resultant rural exodus. The film, which as its title indicates
offers no solution for its uprooted protagonist, is intended as a warning to
politicians and those in authority about problems in Tunisian society. The film
was widely shown and acclaimed, but Babaï had to wait almost twenty years
before he was able to complete a second, The Night of the Decade/La Nuit de
la décennie (1991). A Thousand and One Hands/Mille et une mains (1972), the
debut film of the Moroccan Souheil Benbarka (born 1942), who had studied in
Italy (at the Centro sperimentale) and worked as assistant to Pier Paolo
Pasolini, attacked the Western exploitation of those who weave the Moroccan
carpets so prized by foreign buyers. His second feature, The Oil War Will Not
Take Place/La Guerre du pétrole n’aura pas lieu (1974), was also a political
film, this time in the contemporary manner of Yves Boisset and Costa-Gavras,
a comparison strengthened by Benbarka’s use of European actors. His third
feature, Blood Wedding/Noces de sang (1977), an adaptation of the Garcia
Lorca play starring Irene Papas and Laurent Terzieff, marked the beginning of
the director’s transition from being a committed national advocate to a maker
of films for the international market. Amok (1982), for example, is a loose and
uncredited version of Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country, which looks at
apartheid in South Africa. Subsequently Benbarka has sought a world audience
for his films, while at the same time becoming the dominant figure at home in
Morocco, serving as head of the state organisation, the CCM, for some twentyfive years and owning his own production, distribution and exhibition
company. Benbarka has of late made huge historical spectacles – Drums of
Fire/Tambours de feu (1991), Shadow of the Pharaoh/L’Ombre du pharaon
(1996), and The Lovers of Moghador/Les Amants de Moghador (2002) –
enjoying budgets other Moroccan directors can only dream of, but achieving
little international success.
A further extremely original 1970s political film, focusing this time on the life
of emigrant workers in France, is The Ambassadors/Les Ambassadeurs (1975),
by the Tunisian Naceur Ktari (born 1943). It takes on board the problems and
challenges of solidarity against racism and a forceful and committed study of the
lives of emigrant workers in France. The ironic title derives from the words of a
politician who addresses the workers as they leave for Europe and in no way
reflects their actual status there. The film’s strong narrative line traces the
group’s shift from individual concerns to real friendship and, after two racist
killings, the move to political action. But despite the evident qualities of this first
feature, Ktari had to wait twenty-five years to make his second.
Another 1970s film with real denunciatory power is Hyena’s Sun/Soleil
d’hyènes (1977), the debut feature of the Tunisian Ridha Behi (born 1947). This
attack on the impact of the tourist industry on Tunisian rural society had to be
shot in Morocco (near Agadir) and was largely funded by Dutch co-producing
companies. It shows the totally unequal battle between the modernising ambitions of foreign (German) capital, supported by the Tunisian government, and
the local fishermen keen to keep their traditional way of life. Thieves and profiteers prosper, while the honest poor are forced into virtual prostitution in the
face of the foreign impact. The last word is appropriately left to that recurrent
figure in Arab literature and film, the ‘fool’ who turns out to embody real
insight. Subsequently, Behi sought, with limited success, to reach international
audiences, making Angels/Les Anges (1984) in Egyptian Arabic and then
choosing French actors for the leads in Bitter Champagne/Champagne amer
(1988) and Swallows Don’t Die in Jerusalem/Le Hirondelles ne meurent pas à
Jérusalem (1994). His most recent film, by contrast, is a largely autobiographical piece about a child’s discovery of cinema, The Magic Box/La Boîte magique
The Moroccan Ahmed El Maânouni’s, first feature, The Days, The Days/O les
jours (1978), adopts a more documentary-style approach, reflecting perhaps the
director’s studies of economics. It is a study of a young peasant, who wishes to
achieve his independence and sees only one way of doing it: emigration to
Europe. It was based on three months’ research and shot with a crew from
INSAS, the Belgian film school where El Maânouni had studied. His aim was to
make ‘a portrait from “inside” as it were’ and ‘to allow the peasant world to represent itself’.39 The film achieves its poetic force from the director’s willingness
to reflect the rhythm of the lived peasant experience. Subsequently El Maânouni
completed a documentary, Trances/Transes (1981), about the popular musical
group Nass el-Ghiwane, but he has made no further fictional features.
Perhaps the culmination of this 1970s Maghrebian strand of realism is
Abdellatif Ben Ammar’s Aziza, which focuses on the situation of women and
was actually released in 1980. Looking directly at contemporary Tunis, the film
deals with a family which moves out of the medina into the new suburbs. The
results are varied: the father’s health declines, the son fails in business, but for
the niece, Aziza, who has lived with the family since the death of her father, the
new world offers a challenge of independence which she willingly takes up. Ben
Ammar’s strength lies in the detailed shaping of scenes, such as that in which
the father and Aziza’s new friend, the television actress Aïcha, sing an old 1920s
song by Habiba Messika, or when Aziza and the drunken, defeated son share
a moment of tenderness. In all, the director offers a lively and sensitive picture
of the tensions within the family and among their new neighbours. Aïcha goes
off to seek a dubious happiness in the Gulf with a passing ‘emir’, but Aziza stays
behind in the Tunisian suburbs, vulnerable but resolute.
1. Teshome H. Gabriel, Foreword to Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Questioning
African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2002), pp. ix–x.
2. Reprinted in Ibrahim M. Awed, Dr Hussein M. Adam and Lionel Ngakane (eds),
First Modadishu Pan African Film Symposium (Mogadishu: Mogpafis Management Committee, 1983), pp. 109–10.
3. Raphaël Millet, ‘(In)dépendance des cinémas du Sud &/vs France’, Théorème 5,
Paris, 1998, p. 174.
4. Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representations’, Framework 36,
London, 1989, p. 69.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., p. 70.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967),
pp. 178–9.
10. Françoise Pfaff, 25 Black African Filmmakers (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988),
p. 243.
11. Ousmane Sembene, quoted in Françoise Pfaff, The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene
(Westport: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 123.
12. For reaction to the film, see David Murphy, Sembene: Imagining Alternatives in
Film and Fiction, (Oxford: James Currey and Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press,
2000), pp. 75–9.
13. Laura Mulvey, ‘The Carapace that Failed: Ousmane Sembene’s Xala’, in Fetishism
and Curiosity (London: BFI & Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996),
p. 120.
14. For a fuller discussion of Ceddo, see the chapter ‘The Group as Protagonist: Ceddo’,
in Roy Armes, Action and Image: Dramatic Structure in Cinema (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1994), pp. 155–70.
15. Kenneth W. Harrow, ‘Camp de Thiaroye: Who’s That Hiding in Those Tanks, and
How Come We Can’t See Their Faces’, Iris 18, Iowa, 1995, pp. 147–52.
16. Josef Gugler, ‘Fact, Fiction, and the Critic’s Responsibility’, in Françoise Pfaff (ed.),
Focus on African Films (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 73.
17. Murphy, Sembene, p. 187.
18. Ousmane Sembene, internet interview , www.africultures, 30 April 2003.
19. Réda Bensmaïa, Experimental Nations:, Or, the Invention of the Maghreb
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 12.
20. Ibid., p. 11
21. Mouloud Mimoun, ‘Pour une fusion des regards’, in Mouloud Mimoun (ed.),
France-Algérie: Images d’une guerre (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1992), p. 26.
22. Ahmed Rachedi, interview in Mouny Berrah, Victor Bachy, Mohand Ben Salama
and Ferid Boughedir (eds), Cinémas du Maghreb, Paris: CinémAction 14, 1981,
p. 72.
23. Denise Brahimi, ‘A propos de Tala ou L’Opium et le bâton du roman au film’, Paris:
Awal 15, 1997, p. 66.
24. Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina, interview in Berrah et al., Cinémas du Maghreb,
p. 70.
25. For a detailed analysis of this film, see Roy Armes, ‘History or Myth: Chronique
des années de braise’, in Ida Kummer (ed.), Cinéma Maghrébin, special issue of
Celaan 1: 1–2, 2002, pp. 7–17.
26. Omar Khlifi, interview, in Berrah et al., Cinémas du Maghreb, p. 171.
27. Med Hondo, interview, in Monthly Film Bulletin 55: 648, London, January 1988,
p. 10.
28. Beti Ellerson, ‘Africa through a Woman’s Eyes: Safi Faye’s Cinema’, in Françoise
Pfaff (ed.), Focus on African Films (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004),
p. 192.
29. Safi Faye, in Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike (ed.), Questioning African Cinema
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 34.
30. Ellerson, ‘Africa through a Woman’s Eyes’, p. 191.
31. Selma Baccar, in Touti Moumen, Films tunisiens: Longs métrages 1967–98, (Tunis:
Touti Moumen, 1998), p. 72.
32. Ahmed Rachedi, cited in Guy Hennebelle (ed.), Les Cinémas africains en 1972
(Paris: Société Africaine d’Edition, 1972), p. 115.
33. Ahmed Bedjaoui, ‘Silences et balbutiements’, in Mouloud Mimoun (ed.), FranceAlgérie: Images d’une guerre (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1992), p. 35.
34. Claude Michel Cluny, Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes (Paris: Sindbad,
1978), p. 320.
35. Lotfi Maherzi, Le cinéma algérien: Institutions, imaginaire, idéologie (Algiers:
SNED, 1980), p. 279.
36. Ibid., p. 278.
37. Ratiba Haj-Moussa, ‘The Locus of Tension: Gender in Algerian Cinema’, in
Kenneth W. Harrow (ed.), With Open Eyes: Women and African Cinema,
(Matutu, 19) (Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1997), p. 50.
38. Abdellatif Ben Ammar, interview, in Berrah et al., Cinémas du Maghreb, p. 182.
39. Ahmed al-Maânouni, interview, in Berrah et al., Cinémas du Maghreb, pp. 228–9.
The 1960s were the years of construction, of putting things in place . . .
The gaze becomes clearly more critical in the 1970s, with the accent put
on the social problems of the period; at the same time, cinema acquires
greater technical maturity. In the course of the 1980s, the individual takes
the upper hand.
Tahar Chikhaoui1
It is understandable that African filmmakers of the 1960s and early 1970s were
largely concerned – after the long period of colonisation – to show Africa from
an African perspective, to make their audiences see things anew by projecting
the everyday realities around them onto the screen. In doing so, they were
calling upon audiences to recognise their own social and historical situation. As
the initial didacticism faded, the style of realism they adopted was close to that
of the Italian neorealists, showing poverty in order to expose and create sympathy, rather than to incite action. In so far as there was a focus on the individual, it was largely in terms of a failure to adapt to the challenges posed by
the wider clash of tradition and modernity. What is perhaps surprising is that
this same stance persists largely unchanged into the present for the majority of
African filmmakers. What the 1980s and 1990s brought were ways of deepening this basic realist approach by showing greater concern for the individual
character and a more questioning stance, aware of political as well as social
issues. As Tahar Chikhaoui has noted in an overview of Maghrebian cinema,
which also has relevance for cinema south of the Sahara,
We had to wait till the 1980s for the development to take a personal
dimension accompanied by greater political and ideological disenchantment. From this comes a more interior inspiration, a greater investment
in subjectivity. From the national epic and, from the 1970s onwards, from
the critical representation of social reality, we move to a more disenchanted representation, more conscious of defeat.2
South of the Sahara the pioneers may continue with their epic portrayals, Med
Hondo with Sarraounia (1983) and Ousmane Sembene with Camp de Thiaroye
(1988), for example, but a new tone of intimism, combined with a sharper, if
still nuanced, socio-political critique, is very apparent in the work of newcomers such as Ivoirian Kramo Lanciné Fadika with Djeli (1981) and the Malian
Cheikh Oumar Sissoko with Nyamanton (1986).
The 1980s
Nowhere is this shift away from the national epic more apparent than in
Algeria, where the epic approach of the pioneers (Ahmed Rachedi’s Opium and
the Stick and, especially, Mohamed Lakhdar Hamina’s Chronicle of the Years
of Embers), gives way to the totally intimate tone of Brahim Tsaki, who won
the top prize (the Étalon de Yennenga) at the FESPACO festival in 1985, almost
ten years after Lakhdar Hamina won his Palme d’or at Cannes. Tsaki (born
1946) made his first feature, Children of the Wind/Les Enfants du vent (1981),
in the context of the newsreel section of ONCIC, which he had joined after
completing his studies at INSAS in Belgium. With a team of colleagues and very
little money, he put together a film with three separate twenty-six-minute
stories, linked by the subject matter (the experiences of children), by the use of
the same young actor (the director’s nephew) in all three stories, and by the
recurrence of the same musical accompaniment. The themes of the various
stories are very varied – personal disillusionment, a struggle to understand television images of a very different world, children’s creativity with bits of wire
and scraps – but there is a unifying, very personal vision of childhood. The film
also sets the stylistic tone for all Tsaki’s work by using virtually no dialogue and
eschewing voice-over comment.
The director took this concern with silence a stage further in his second and
best feature, Story of a Meeting/Histoire d’une rencontre (1983), a more conventionally funded ONCIC feature. The protagonists, two fourteen-year-old
deaf mutes, come from very different backgrounds (he is the son of an Algerian
peasant, while she is the daughter of an American oil engineer), but they are
drawn together by their shared handicap and develop real communication,
using signs and showing acts of mutual generosity. This is a unique moment for
them both, which ends abruptly when the girl’s father is assigned to another oilfield. Essentially a study of individuals who succeed in conversing without
words, Story of a Meeting is also, for the director, a comment on modern society:
‘the more new technology facilitates exchange, whether it is air travel or the
transmission of an image that can be seen simultaneously in Montpellier and
Algiers, the more I have the impression that it separates us’.3 Tsaki completed
his informal trilogy with The Neon Children/Les Enfants des néons (1990), the
story of loves and jealousies – and eventual violence – between a group of young
beurs, one of whom is a deaf-mute. Produced by the CNC and using (sparse)
French dialogue, this is essentially, as Tsaki admits, a French film.4 It seems to
have received little or no distribution and proved to be his last film.
A very different trajectory was followed by Mohamed Rachid Benhadj (born
1949), who studied both architecture and filmmaking in Paris and currently
lives in Italy. Benhadj began in a low-key style, akin to that of Tsaki, with
Louss/Rose des sables (1989), the story of a crippled young man who lives with
his beautiful sister Zeinab in a remote oasis situated in the timeless desert hundreds of kilometres from Algiers. Despite having no arms, Moussa lives a full
life, accepted unconditionally by the few neighbours he encounters. But the
balance is precarious, and with the departure of Zeinab and the loss of his
beloved Meriem, he succumbs to despair. Despite the ending, most of the film
has a touchingly poetic sense of innocence, and the delicacy with which
Benhadj handles his players, the precision of his camerawork and the beauty
of his visual style made the film a success with a wide range of audiences.
Though co-produced by the state organisation, CAAIC, Louss’s focus on a
lone protagonist living outside the social forces of modernity captures one of
the key aspects of the new 1980s mood, far removed from the state propagandising of the 1970s.
Benhadj’s second film, Touchia (1992), tackles the other key aspect of 1980s
filming, revealing a new political awareness in the depiction of the rising
Islamist threat of the early 1990s. As so often in Maghrebian cinema, the protagonist is a woman and the film is essentially a tale of her suffering. Here Fella,
a woman in her forties, is trapped in her apartment by Islamist demonstrators
on the streets, and the stress brings her to remember her childhood humiliations
and in particular the day of national independence, which culminated in her
rape and the murder of her best friend. The film ends with her breakdown.
Touchia is careful plotted and the transitions between time levels are skilfully
handled, but it is a more conventional film than its predecessor, showing clearly
the direction in which Benhadj’s career would develop. After two Italian films,
Benhadj made an unashamedly commercial movie, the international blockbuster Mirka (2000), in which the talents of Vanessa Redgrave and Gérard
Depardieu and the cinematographic skills of Vittorio Storaro are expended on
a rather slight if well-meaning tale of a small boy bullied because he is the
outcome of a brutal rape during ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
In Morocco too there is a new concentration on the individual, sometimes
on the defeat of inarticulate males, but more often on the suffering of young
women, in a rigid Muslim culture. The central core of cinema in Morocco
during the 1980s is a series of socially realist films directed by Jillali Ferhati and
Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi, supplemented by The Barber of the Poor
Quarter/Le Coiffeur du quartier des pauvres (1982) directed by the legendary
Mohamed Reggab (1942–90).5 Ferhati (born 1948) studied sociology and
drama in Paris for ten years, before returning to Morocco where he worked
extensively as an actor on stage and screen. After a couple of shorts and a first,
little-shown feature, A Hole in the Wall/Une brèche dans le mur (1977), he
made four further films spread at long intervals over twenty years. Three of the
films have simple narrative lines and focus on a female victim. Aïcha in Reed
Dolls/Poupées de roseau (1982) is a very young widow, forced to work to
support her three children, who is abandoned by her lover when she gets pregnant and consequently has her children taken from her. Mina in The Beach of
Lost Children/La Plage aux enfants perdus (1991) is hidden away by her father
when she gets pregnant and inadvertently kills her violent lover, but eventually
the truth emerges and she is left isolated. Saïda, in Braids/Tresses (2000), is
struck dumb after being raped by the son of a powerful lawyer-politician and,
even when he dies, the family cannot be put together again as it was before.
Ferhati’s other feature, Make-Believe Horses/Chevaux de fortune (1995), has a
wider focus, chronicling the stories of a disparate group of Moroccans in
Tangiers, all of whom – for various reasons – want desperately to make the
crossing to Europe. Though Spain is so near, their dreams are blocked and the
film ends in death for the two leading characters.
All Ferhati’s films are the fruit of intense and careful preparation. Realism is
integral to his work, as for him ‘the imaginary isn’t something fabulous. It is
based on the real’.6 The movement of the deliberately paced narrative is always
well organised, with great attention given to lighting and composition. For
Ferhati, the cinema entails conveying meaning visually, so that dialogue in his
work is sparse. For him ‘good cinema is the image and therefore silence’ and
the spectator is ‘to be invited to uncover the meaning, to work at the reading
of the film’.7 Ferhati shows great sympathy for his powerless and tormented
heroines who, like the obsessed gambler Mohamed in Make-Believe Horses,
are, as it were, sleepwalking to death, disaster or isolation, their dreams unanswered and their efforts to escape brushed aside by a hostile environment.
Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi (born 1942), who studied film in Paris and New
York, made several documentaries before his first feature The Big Trip/Le Grand
voyage (1982). Scripted by Nour Eddine Saïl, this low-budget production is
essentially a road movie, following a truck driver’s journey along the coast road
from Agadir in the south to Tangier in the north and taking in the cities of
Essouira, Casablanca and Rabat. The taciturn Omar is essentially a good man,
eager to help others he meets, but he is also an innocent, robbed and cheated all
the way. Persuaded to sell his truck and to emigrate, he finds he has been duped
again, cut loose in a rowing boat in the middle of the ocean. The film, which ends
with a freeze-frame of him waving in despair, is a bleak tale of defeat.
Badis (1998), again scripted by Saïl but this time in collaboration with the
writer-director Farida Benlyazid, is, if anything, bleaker still, despite (or
perhaps because of) the beauty of the setting and the vivacity of the central
characters. The island on which the village of Badis is situated is a Spanish
enclave, left over from the colonial period. Two oppressed women, who are
drawn together in real friendship, plan to run away to freedom, but their every
move has been spied on by the villagers and they are quickly caught and –
horrifyingly – stoned to death. It is another woman who throws the first stone.
This ending was chosen by Tazi against the wishes of his co-scriptwriters and
has been much criticised for its total negativism, with feminists such as the
Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi arguing that the film ‘shouldn’t have
ended in that defeatist, pessimistic manner, because the film was made at a time
when Moroccan women were starting to take their lives into their own hands’.8
In Tunisia, the director who most clearly combines the decade’s themes of
intimacy and sharp political critique is Nouri Bouzid (born 1945). With five
feature films directed in sixteen years from 1986 and contributions to the
scripts of six others, Bouzid emerged as a major figure in Maghrebian cinema.
Bouzid has a complex past – he trained at INSAS in Belgium and worked extensively as assistant on foreign features shot in Tunisia, but he was also imprisoned for five years for left-wing political activities. His first features have an
autobiographical style rare in Arab cinema, but are also examples of what he
promoted as a ‘new Arab realism’, coloured by the 1967 Arab defeat in the war
against Israel. The aim of the new filmmakers was, in Bouzid’s view, ‘to subvert
norms, refuse prohibitions and unveil sensitive areas such as religion, sex, the
authorities, the “father figure” ’.9 Bouzid’s own first three films – all produced
by the innovative producer Ahmed Attia – feature damaged male figures who
are defeated by experiences rarely mentioned in Arab or African cinema. In
Man of Ashes/L’Homme de cendres (1986) Hachmi, a young carpenter, celebrates his last bachelor night with his friends, but his mind is flooded with memories of childhood abuse: male rape when he was just twelve years old. In
Golden Horseshoes/Les Sabots en or (1988) the hero Youssef is a former political prisoner who emerges from prison but is unable to cope with the failure of
his own ideals and the changed society which confronts him. Roufa, in Beznes
(1992), tries vainly to reconcile his love of his own country with his urgent
desire to emigrate, and his macho urge to dominate the lives of his sister and
girlfriend with his personal role as a prostitute selling himself to wealthy male
and female tourists.
In breaking taboos in this way Bouzid gave realist cinema in Tunisia an
unprecedented edge and bite, and the emotional involvement with the tormented male figures is intense. The unfolding present is always shot through
with painful memories of the past which intrude into the characters’ immediate lives and fragment the flow of the film narrative. Bouzid’s subsequent features from the late 1990s, focusing on female protagonists, are also impressive,
but lack the unique force of these three initial films. Bent familia/Tunisiennes
(1997) was a study of three women who come together in their shared efforts
to find space for themselves in a male-dominated world. But the film ends
inconclusively, as the women are driven apart by factors outside their control.
Bouzid’s most recent film, Clay Dolls/Poupées d’argile (2002), focuses on
young girls from outlying villages sold into domestic service in Tunis. The view
of Tunisian society is so bleak that no favourable outcome is remotely possible.
South of the Sahara too there is a strong concern not just with social problems but with the individual response to them. In the Ivory Coast KramoLancine Fadika (born 1948) made Djeli (1981), a sensitive and thoughtful
study of the caste barriers still existing in the country (the origins of which are
shown in a sepia insert in the early part of the film). Fanta and Karamoko’s
romance was acceptable in the modern, French-language environment of
Abidjan University, but it causes real concern at their rural home. Ironically, it
is her traditionally-clad older uncle who urges her father’s acceptance of
changed times, and the film ends with a freeze-frame as the father is about to
take Karamoko’s hand at Fanta’s hospital bedside. Despite the success of his
first feature, Fadika had to wait thirteen years before he could complete a
second, Wariko, le gros lot (1994), which dealt with a policeman and his family
whose peaceful and industrious life is shattered when the wife buys a winning
lottery ticket which cannot be found when it is time to claim the prize.
The year 1986 saw the emergence of the second major director (after
Souleymane Cisse) in Mali, Cheikh Oumar Sissoko (born 1945), who had
studied both filmmaking and African history and sociology in Paris. His first
feature, Nyamanton (1986), was an engaging study of street children in
Bamako and shows perfectly his political engagement and his ‘commitment to
film as the medium of expressing the realities of our societies’.10 Two children
are excluded from school because their family cannot afford the necessary
expenses and are sent out to work: the boy picking through the garbage and
the girl selling oranges. Their liveliness and good humour serve only to
strengthen Sissoko’s attack on official indifference. Despite being shot on a tiny
budget and in a virtually documentary style, Nyamanton became one of the
most popular of all films in Mali: ‘People recognised the deteriorated condition
they lived in, realising the grave consequences’.11
Sissoko’s second film, Finzan (1989), looked at women’s problems in society
and their attempts at rebellion. On the death of her husband, Nanyuma refuses
the traditional demand to marry his younger brother Bala, the village idiot, who
already has two wives. She is harshly treated by the community, but the fate of
her friend Fili, who is forcibly excised by an irate group of older women, is
worse. The film ends with Nanyuma’s lament, ‘Women are like birds that have
nowhere to perch. There is no hope. We must stand up and fight for ourselves,
because without emancipation, our country will never develop’. Sissoko’s view
of tradition is harsh, and he openly mocks old superstitions. Though the film
comes close at times to a political tract in its treatment of women’s issues, there
is plenty of (often crude) humour in the handling of Bala and some wonderful
scenes involving the little boys who torment him imaginatively. After completing these two essentially realistic studies of contemporary life, which show
clearly and directly his social commitment, Sissoko followed his compatriot
Souleymane Cisse’s example and turned to using history and myth as ways of
conveying his message about the need for change. His masterly 1990s films are
considered in Chapter 8.
In Burkina Faso 1987 saw another major debut, that of S. Pierre Yaméogo
(born 1955), who, with Kabore and Ouedraogo, is one of the trio of filmmakers who dominate the country’s film output, and a filmmaker with a distinctive
voice. Yaméogo has stated that he is inspired by reality, that he considers
cinema to be above all information, and that many things in Africa deserve to
be revealed and underlined.12 The short feature Dunia (meaning ‘the world’)
set the pattern in 1967, being a simple report on women’s lives in Burkina Faso,
treating issues such as sterility, isolation and teenage pregnancy, as seen through
the eyes of a little girl, Nongma. Laafi (1990) looks at an older age group: students who have just completed their ‘bac’ and are looking for university placements. The early part of the film looks at both the good reasons for so few
students to be sent abroad (too few ever return) and at the bad ones (the corruption of local officials). The latter part of the film focuses more on the students’ emotional lives with partners and parents, setting their lifestyles against
that of the self-styled ‘man of the people’ who serves them their coffee and sandwiches in the street. The anti-corruption stance is weakened at the end of the
film, when, out of the blue, the hero Joe gets his longed-for Parisian placement,
but it gives a vivid picture of the moped-riding young people who crowd the
streets of contemporary Ouagadougou.
In his subsequent features, Yaméogo kept up his keen gaze at social issues.
Wendemi (1992) took as its protagonist a young man whose name, Wendemi
(‘child of the good Lord’), indicates his status as the abandoned child of an
unmarried mother driven from her community. Grown to adulthood, Wendemi
finds that his lack of knowledge of his parents frustrates his attempts to build
himself a life. But his attempts to find out his origins plunge him into the murky
side of African city life (the prostitution of very young girls) and lead him to a
dark discovery. Silmandé (1998) is perhaps Yaméogo’s most outspoken attack
on corruption. It points unflinchingly at the involvement of both Lebanese businessmen and African politicians in shady and self-serving deals and aroused real
anger in Ouagadougou’s expatriate Lebanese community (which runs many of
the local cinemas). Never content just to document a situation, Yaméogo makes
a powerful plea for social change. Me and My White Guy/Moi et mon blanc
(2002) uses a thriller structure, showing two men – one French, the other an
African student – on the run from drug dealers they have double-crossed. The
aim is to lay bare both unthinking Western prejudices and African corruption.
Delwende (2005) is a powerful denunciation of superstition and blind adherence to tradition in the rural community. Napoko, already troubled when her
daughter Pougbilia is raped and will not name the aggressor, is devastated when
the sixteen-year-old Pougbilia is married off by her father Diarrha to her fiancé
in the next village and when she herself is designated a witch and driven into
exile at the ‘siongho’ ceremony organised by the men of the community, who
are troubled by the unexplained deaths of children (in fact it is an outbreak of
meningitis). Eventually she is located by her single-minded daughter Pougbilia
in an old women’s refuge in Ouagadougou. Together the two return to the
village to confront the cause of all their troubles: Diarrha. While the story is
slight, the images of Pougbilia searching for her mother in a women’s refuge,
filled with literally hundreds of elderly women, all driven from their villages as
witches, is enormously powerful. Yaméogo’s work is always lively and committed and raises fundamental questions about contemporary African society.
The 1990s
The realist tendency of African filmmaking continued unabated in the new
decade. Characterising Algerian cinema as ‘political’, Moroccan cinema as ‘cultural’ and Tunisian cinema as ‘social’, Tahar Chikhaoui has argued that in the
1990s all three shared a common aim: ‘a will to move people’s consciences and
to play a part in mental development’.13 From his Tunisian perspective, he notes
that the greatest debates have been provoked by the way in which woman is
represented and, in particular, ‘the liberty with which the female body is
filmed’.14 His prime example is Silences of the Palace/Les Silences du palais
(1994), the debut film of Moufida Tlatli (born 1947) whose work is a fine
example of the new impetus given to cinema in Tunisia by Nouri Bouzid (who
co-scripted the film).
Tlatli is perhaps the most talented of a number of African female directors
who – following Safi Faye, Assia Djebar, Neija Ben Mabrouk and Selma Baccar –
made their debuts in the 1980s and 1990s. In Tunisia, Tlatli’s breakthrough was
followed by that of her contemporary, Kaltoum Bornaz (born 1945), with Keswa
(1997) and the much younger Raja Amari (born 1971), whose Satin Rouge
(2002) is discussed in Chapter 12. In Morocco, Farida Bourquia (born 1948),
who has worked largely in television, made her sole feature, The Embers/La
Braise in 1982. She was followed by Farida Benlyazid (born 1948), who had
begun as a scriptwriter for Ferhati and Tazi and directed three notable feature
films, Gateway to Heaven/La Porte au ciel (1987), Women’s Wiles/Keid Ensa
(1999) and Casablanca Casablanca (2003). Again there was a renewal in 2002
with the appearance of Narjiss Nejjar (born 1971) with her first feature, Cry No
More/Les Yeux secs (2002), and of Yasmine Kassari (born 1968). In Algeria the
novelist Hafsa Zinaï-Koudil (born 1951) directed the 16mm feature The Female
Demon/Le Démon au féminin (1993) for Algerian television (RTA). Then there
was a wait until 2002 before Yamina Bachir-Chouikh (born 1954) completed
the first Algerian 35mm feature to be made by a woman, Rachida (2002).
Developments were slower south of the Sahara and it was not until 2004 that
Safi Faye found two Burkinabè successors in Régina Fanta Nacro (born 1962),
with The Night of Truth/La Nuit de la vérité, and Apolline Traoré, with Under
the Moonlight/Sous la clarté de la lune. These female directors largely gave a feminine slant on a subject frequently treated by male directors, the problems of
women in Arab and African society. But in general they are more positive in
seeing opportunities as well as difficulties for women in Islamic society. The work
of the younger women filmmakers is discussed in Chapter 9.15
Tlatli’s Silences of the Palace/Les Silences du palais is a reflection on relations
within a family, the director’s own thoughts about her mother and her concerns
for her teenage daughter. The narrative, which traces the return of a young
singer, Alia, to the beys’ palace where she was born and where her mother was
a servant, has a deliberately melodramatic structure. Tlatli worked for twenty
years as an editor on many major Arab features and her own first film is full of
striking juxtapositions and brings together at its climax the death of the mother
and (partial) liberation of the daughter. It is a film of opposing spaces, with the
warm solidarity of the women working in the kitchen contrasted with the cold
and the ruthless exercise of male power by the beys in their upstairs apartment.
This is a world of total patriarchy where women servants are totally at the
sexual call of their masters and a teenage servant’s virginity is always at risk.
Tlatli’s use of women performers – the mother exhibited as mistress-dancer by
one of the beys and the daughter struggling to find an individual identity ten
years later as a singer – gives particular force to the film’s examination of
women’s subjugation and the (tentative) beginnings of a female revolt. As Zahia
Smail Salhi notes, the film is an invitation for women of her generation ‘to take
the achievements of yesterday’s revolution towards new horizons through a
new social revolution’.16
The Men’s Season/La Saison des hommes (2000), Tlatli’s second feature, has
an even more complex twenty-year time scale, but was less successful, perhaps
because the lead actors were required to play themselves both as newly-weds
and as adult parents one and two decades later. The focus is characteristic of
Tlatli, with a group of women of varying ages on the island of Djerba joined in
unity, their mutual friendships compensating at least in part for the absence of
their menfolk who spend much of the year living and working in Tunis. A key
figure is the autistic son whose situation is totally ambiguous, in that he both
liberates his mother (through his gender) and imprisons her (through his disability). The film is full of beautifully realised scenes reflecting both the difficulties caused by lives lived largely apart (the men return for just one season a
year) and the surprises for the women who find an unexpected independence
and self-realisation in this lifestyle. The film is audaciously edited and ends with
a typical Tlatli multiple climax (here bringing together childbirth, seduction
and marital reconciliation). A tribute to women’s survival of years of lack and
longing, the film confirms Tlatli as a major figure in Maghrebian cinema.
In Morocco in the 1990s a new and more challenging political tone was
adopted by Abdelkader Lagtaâ (born 1948), who trained at the Lodz film
school in Poland and describes himself as more influenced ‘by Polish cinema or,
more generally, by the cinemas of Eastern Europe, than by Western cinema or,
for that matter, by Egyptian cinema’.17 One Moroccan critic, keen to distinguish his work from the dominant 1980s group, has dubbed his approach
‘socio-political’, because of the filmmaker’s willingness to ‘unveil the unspoken
and to confront taboos’.18 Indeed Lagtaâ is quite explicit about his intentions:
‘I see my role as questioning society, questioning social practices, questioning
how people behave and the kinds of relationships they have with each other’.19
In addition, Lagtaâ was one of the first Moroccan directors to reach a mass
audience with his first feature, A Love Affair in Casablanca/Un amour à
Casablanca, which both shocked and delighted its viewers when released in
1991. The film has a complicated plot which depicts a father who discovers that
he and his son are both involved in sexual relationships with the same eighteenyear-old schoolgirl. The film ends with the boy’s suicide. The Closed Door/La
Porte close, Lagtaâ’s second feature, was shot in 1993 but not released until
2000 because of the bankruptcy of the French co-producer and censorship
problems in Morocco. It deals with a young man who has an excessive relationship with his dominating young stepmother and develops a real friendship
with a homosexual colleague, whose suicide forms the film’s climax. Both films
give a very striking image of modern life in an Arab society where alcohol,
drugs, prostitution and casual sex abound.
In The Casablancans/Les Casablancais (1998) the focus is wider, with three
linked contemporary urban tales: a bookseller is terrified when he (mistakenly)
receives a police summons, a beautiful young school teacher is harassed when
she applies for a visa to visit France, and a young schoolboy is corrupted by his
Islamist tutor and driven to despair. Though the film is shaped as a comedy, it
too gives a tense and disturbing picture of contemporary Morocco: arbitrary
police power, censorship, male sexual obsession and creeping fundamentalism.
Throughout the film, the authorities are scorned and derided, while corruption
is exposed as commonplace.
A more commercial approach is that of Hakim Noury (born 1952), who
worked as assistant to Souheil Benbarka. He made a first feature, The
Postman/Le Facteur, in 1980, but then had to wait ten years before he could
complete his second, The Hammer and the Anvil/Le Marteau et l’enclume
(1990), the unhappy tale of an office worker forced into early retirement. He
followed this with four further features in quick succession, to become the most
prolific Moroccan director of the decade. His best qualities are seen in Stolen
Childhood/L’Enfance volée (1993), a film in two distinct parts, viewing the protagonist Rkia at age ten and again at eighteen. As a child she is hired out from
her village to work for a rich family in Casablanca. Later, as a naive girl, she is
seduced, made pregnant and abandoned to become a whore in the big city. The
film ends with a dealer returning to Rkia’s village to fetch her younger sister.
Noury subsequently turned to comedy to achieve enormous box-office success
with She is Diabetic and Hypertensive and She Refuses to Die/Elle est diabétique et hypertendue et elle refuse de crever (2000).20
In Algeria, Merzak Allouache, who had begun with one of the most innovative of Maghrebian comedies, Omar Gatlato (discussed in Chapter 7), continued in the 1980s with a curious but affecting tale of a man’s plunge into madness
and murder, The Man Who Looked at Windows/L’Homme qui regardait les
fenêtres (1982), and a minor film shot in France, A Parisian Love Story/Un
amour à Paris (1987). His first 1990s film was Bab el Oued City (1994), perhaps
the finest of all studies of the rise of Islamist violence. The film begins, as it will
end, in typical Arab fashion, with the sufferings of a woman, in this case
Yamina, who has waited three years for news from Boualem, the man she loves.
The main inset story explains his absence. Driven crazy by the mosque loudspeaker situated on his balcony, Boualem tears it down and throws it into the
sea. He immediately regrets his action, which serves as a pretext for Yamina’s
brother Saïd (a hero of the October 1988 uprisings) to bring ‘order’ to the neighbourhood through a reign of violence, with the claim that Boualem’s act is ‘muffling the voice of God’.
Mixing humour with serious social insights and making good use of popular
music, Bab el Oued City paints a vivid picture of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood: Saïd who puts on mascara before strutting out to bring his version of
justice to the people; Marbrouk, Boualem’s colleague at the bakery, who dabbles
in smuggled goods; Ouardya, a French-speaking former left-wing activist, who
now drinks heavily and is attracted to Boualem; Mess, who claims to be French
and finally and unexpectedly gets his passport. In the background are young
women (including Yamina) seeking romance from novels and television, young
men dabbling (in one case fatally) in drugs; and Paolo, a former settler, who is
taking his blind aunt on a tour of Algiers, pretending that nothing has changed
since colonial days. Behind Saïd, and seemingly controlling him, are shadowy,
unnamed figures who make half a dozen enigmatic appearances and who are presumably responsible for his death when he has served their purpose. The mood
gradually darkens as the film proceeds, with Saïd and his small band of bearded,
black-jacketed supporters bringing increased violence and intimidation, and the
moderate imam resigning in despair. When Boualem is beaten up by the gang, he
decides to emigrate, leaving Yamina, after one stolen kiss, to mourn his exile as
a kind of death.
Subsequently based in Paris, Allouache has achieved considerable success by
alternating comedies of immigrant life there – Hello Cousin!/Salut Cousin!
(1996) and Chouchou (2003) – with tales of Algerian ‘returnees’ – AlgiersBeirut: In Remembrance/Alger-Beyrouth, pour mémoire (1998) and The Other
World/L’Autre monde (2001). But he has never recovered the level of his best
early work and has become, in effect, a French filmmaker. Bab el Web (2004),
a slight, French-language comedy, is very much an outsider’s view of Bab el
Oued twenty-eight years after Omar Gatlato. Allouache has moved far from
his roots, but his output of ten features in under thirty years makes him the most
prolific filmmaker to stem from the Maghreb.
A key feature of mid-1990s Algerian filmmaking – and a political event in its
own right – was the making of a trio of films not only set in the Altas mountains, but using the Berber language, Tamazight. Until the 1990s this had been
expressly forbidden by the government, which – despite the existence of
5 million Algerians who speak only that language21 – had wanted to proclaim
Algeria as one nation with one language and one religion. But in the 1990s,
faced with political upheaval and with the state system in crisis, CAAIC could
no longer ban the making of such films, even if it contributed very little financial or other support (it was itself dissolved in 1997). The three directors,
Abderrahmane Bouguermouh (born 1938), Belkacem Hadjadj (born 1950) and
Azzedine Meddour (born 1947), had much in common. All three had trained
aboard (at IDHEC, INSAS and VGIK, respectively) and each had already made
a name for himself: Bouguermouh with television dramas and an initial feature
for cinema release in 1986, Hadjadj with a series of ten fictional shorts, and
Meddour as a documentarist. All three had tiny budgets (in Bouguermouh’s
case the film was only able to go ahead because of public subscription) and, for
all three, shooting was dangerous, since this was still a time of civil unrest and
ruthless violence by Muslim fundamentalists.
Bouguermouh had wanted to adapt Mouloud Mammeri’s celebrated 1952
French-language novel The Forgotten Hillside/La Colline oubliée for some
twenty years and had discussed his adaptation with the author. He was the first
to get under way in 1994, though various production and post-production
delays (especially with the sound track) meant that the film was not released
until 1996. Set in 1939 against a background of French colonisation, the film
focuses squarely on the love stories of two young friends, who have abandoned
their studies in France. Since their return, they have been uncertain of their roles
in a community in crisis, still ruled by the older generation which sees no way
forward. The film does not seek to dramatise events, capturing instead the villagers’ sparse daily routines as they confront the realities of poverty and claustrophobia. An important feature is the use of songs by the Berber poet Taos
Hadjadj and Meddour set up a joint production company, Imago Film, to aid
their efforts, and Hadjadj’s Once Upon a Time/Machaho was released in 1995.
Set in an unspecified past, the film avoids political issues and concentrates
instead on a rural drama concerning a peasant who avenges the seduction of
his daughter, only to discover too late that the lover had returned to marry her.
The film, in which Hadjadj plays the leading role, has a clear dramatic line and
a simple dramatic irony. Despite the circumstances of its making, Machaho has
a striking air of tranquillity. Though on one level a critique of traditional values,
it approaches the Berber lifestyle with great respect, lovingly showing its costumes and rituals. Hadjadj’s only other feature, El manara (2004), has a more
precise location in time, dealing with the upheavals in the lives of a trio of young
people caused by the uprisings of October 1988.
Azzedine Meddour, whose mother tongue is Tamazight, was confronted by
even greater difficulties when he shot Baya’s Mountain/La Montagne de Baya
(1997), since an unexplained explosion killed thirteen members of the crew. As
Meddour has said, ‘We began to live what Baya lived. She fought for the survival of certain values. So did we’.22 The film, which again has a strong individual storyline, celebrates traditional values. Set in the Kabyle mountains at
the beginning of the twentieth century, it is an epic tale of Berber villagers driven
into the mountains when their land is confiscated by the French and their upperclass Arab allies. Baya, the daughter of the tribe’s spiritual leader, receives
blood-money (‘diya’) for the murder of her husband. But despite the tribe’s sufferings, she refuses to use this money to help them or to admit her own love for
Djendel, the tribe’s revered bandit-cum-poet, until her husband has been
avenged. For Baya, only blood can answer blood, but her personal heroism and
sense of traditional values are submerged in the wider drama of the community,
as a new and even bloodier assault is made on the tribe’s new fields and
dwellings. This two-hour epic – enlivened by traditional costumes, songs and
rituals – was Meddour’s only feature film, as he died of cancer three years after
the film’s release.
South of the Sahara, Cameroon led the way in the early 1990s with the work
of three new and talented directors, working during what Ekema Agbaw has
described as ‘the climax of what can be described in Cameroonian terms as
a social revolution’.23 The uniquely experimental work of Jean-Pierre Bekolo is
discussed in Chapter 9, but the other two filmmakers follow the direct, socially
committed pattern which concerns us here. The writer and filmmaker Bassek
Ba Kobhio (born 1957) drew on his own experiences to make his first feature,
The Village Teacher/Sango Malo (1991), dealing with the experiences of a
newly appointed school teacher who disrupts the traditional life of the village.
There is a clash of values with a school’s headmaster when Malo introduces
modern teaching methods and a curriculum relevant to the children’s needs and
talks about politics and sex . Imbued with his new ideas, the children ransack
the village store when a child is beaten by its owner, provoking the latter to turn
to new economic methods (importing prostitutes from the city). Malo shows
disrespect for traditional authority (the village chief) and encourages the villagers to set up a farm cooperative. But his contempt for tradition is excessive.
When he marries a village girl but refuses to pay her dowry, he provokes her
father’s suicide. When he proposes cutting down the sacred forest, he has taken
a step too far and is arrested. But the collective continues. The film not only
allows clear insights into the social organisation of a contemporary village, but
also offers a lively picture of the different attitudes (strengths and weaknesses)
of a new generation born since independence.
Whereas his first film looked at the political needs of contemporary
Cameroon, Bassek Ba Kobhio’s second, The Great White Man of Lambaréné/
Le Grand blanc de Lambaréné (1995), looks back at the colonial era. The film,
which covers a vast sweep of some twenty years up to Albert Schweitzer’s death
in 1965, is full of ambiguities, not least because of the failure of some characters (including Schweizer himself) to age visibly. As French Equatorial Africa
moves from French colony to a group of independent states (including presentday Gabon, where the film was shot), we see a succession of juxtaposed scenes
revealing the complexity of Schweitzer’s relationship with Africa and his
abiding certainties, which are challenged as much by returning ex-soldiers in
1944 as by independence in 1960. Bassek Ba Kobhio has clearly felt the need
to include all aspects of his protagonist’s character: his refusal to recognise that
an African could ever be a doctor, his contradictory approaches to African tradition and African women, as well as his evident commitment to his missionary role. It includes European criticisms of his medical methods, as well as the
more telling African complaint that he failed to love Africans and that he was
in Africa to save his own soul, not to help Africa to develop.
Though the subjects treated in Bassek Ba Kobhio’s two features are very different, both offer vivid portraits of flawed idealists who wish to do good, but
are authoritarian, puritanical, at odds with their surroundings and neglectful
towards their womenfolk. In 2004, after a number of short films, Bassek Ba
Kobhio co-directed, with Didier Ouenangare, the first film to be made in the
Republic of Central Africa, The Silence of the Forest/Le Silence de la forêt.
The second major Cameroonian filmmaker in this tradition is Jean-Marie
Teno (born 1954), who trained in Paris, where he now lives, and has worked
largely in documentary since 1984. Among the dozen or so documentaries he
has made in twenty years are several powerful feature-length works which have
been widely distributed and fully reflect his aim of ‘uttering a great cry of rage
against injustice in Cameroon and showing elements which allow the understanding and eventual untangling of the complex threads of oppression in
Africa’.24 Africa, I Will Fleece You/Afrique, je te plumerai (1992) examines the
cultural history of Cameroon, beginning in the present and moving back
through time to uncover the roots of the present dire situation in the practices
instituted during the colonial era. Chief!/Chef! (1999), provoked by a chance
encounter with a boy of sixteen about to be lynched by a mob for stealing some
chickens, examines the role of authority in Cameroon – not only the position
of the dictator, who is all-powerful, but also the situation of every Cameroonian
husband, who has absolute power over his wife. In Holiday Back Home/
Vacances au pays (2000) Teno uses a trip back to places he knew before, to
explore education, local administration and village democracy.
Clando (1996), Teno’s first fictional film, is a study of exile. But the opening
scenes in Douala and the flashbacks from abroad show the same world as that
depicted in the documentaries. As he says in Chef!, poverty, violence and corruption live in a ménage à trois and a whole black economy exists to provide
what the state fails to supply. In this broken-down society there are a few positive points: family, self-help groups, friendship. But arrest and torture by the
political police for some minimal political activity almost break the protagonist, Sobgui. His attempt to rebuild his life by becoming a clandestine taxi
driver (the ‘clando’ of the title) exposes him to another facet of Cameroonian
society, namely the murderous violence that the poor (in this case, the licensed
taxi drivers) mete out to the poor (the ‘clandos’). In exile, in Cologne, Sobgui’s
affair with a German activist makes him rethink his position, as does the
meeting with an old friend and mentor now destroyed by exile. At the end it is
by no means clear what he will actually do when he returns, with his friend, to
Cameroon. Like all Teno’s work, Clando gives a vivid image of Cameroon and
its multiple problems. Like his documentaries, it works by juxtaposing scenes
and situations, rather than by establishing a strong narrative line. As always the
ending is tentative, a call for reflection rather than direct action. Together, this
1990s work establishes Teno as a major voice in contemporary African cinema.
The filmmaker’s latest film, The Colonial Misunderstanding/Le Malentendu
colonial (2004), typically takes as its theme Desmond Tutu’s celebrated dictum
(which it cites): ‘When the first missionaries reached Africa, they had the bible
and we had the land. They asked us to pray. So we closed our eyes to pray.
When we opened them again, the situation was reversed. We had the bible and
they had the land’.
In Burkina Faso after the huge success of his first three films, Yam daabo,
Yaaba and Tilaï (which are discussed in Chapter 8), Idrissa Ouedraogo continued to work prolifically throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, making four
further features, shorter fictional pieces for television, numerous documentaries
and a twelve-part television series shot on video. But though he has repeatedly
varied his approach in a constant effort at renewal, he has frustratingly never
regained in this more realistic work the international success that greeted his
early features. The first of his 1990s features, Karim and Sala (1991), which
was made for French regional television and featured the two young players
from his second feature, Yaaba, was a further village film depicting the romance
of two twelve-year-olds. It received limited cinema screening.
Responding to criticism that he was ignoring Burkina Faso’s real social problems and merely giving back to the West its own fantasised image of Africa, he
next made Samba Traoré (1992), a thriller intended as ‘an act of rebellion
against the ghetto in which they are trying to put us’.25 The film follows its protagonist, involved in a robbery and killing in Ouagadougou, as he flees back to
his native village and tries to recreate his life there. At first he seems to succeed,
but in classic thriller style his past catches up with him. Ouedraogo directs with
fluent assurance, the action is lively, full of humour and telling detail, and the
playing is assured. One of Ouedraogo’s strengths as a filmmaker is the directness of his storytelling, and here the problem that Samba’s (stolen) wealth
causes the villagers helps to maintain the narrative flow. The drama comes to a
satisfying conclusion when he is arrested at the very moment he has resolved
his family problems. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the way it makes us
sympathise with Samba though we know he is a thief on the run. As always in
Ouedraogo’s work, everyone has their reasons.
In a further attempt at renewal, Ouedraogo made Le Cri du Cœur (1994),
which is, by any measure (funding, language, crew, writers) a French film. The
eleven-year-old Moctar, brought from Africa by his mother to rejoin the father
he has not seen for five years, feels increasingly isolated and is haunted by
recurrent visions of a hyena. These fears are eventually resolved – partly
through his friendship with Paolo, a socially marginal figure played by the
French star Richard Bohringer – when the hyena is identified with Moctar’s
beloved grandfather who, it later emerges, was dying at the time. Though it
contains many familiar features of Ouedraogo’s style (the visual polish,
the central figure of a child, the stress on father-son relationships), the film
is strangely unaffecting, as certain key elements of the plot are totally
unconvincing – in particular the unmotivated relationship with Paolo. The
ritual magic at the end, exorcising the hyena, lacks conviction. The critical
reception of the film was disastrous, with African critics accusing Ouedraogo
of wanting to become French (he lives in Paris) and French critics telling him,
in effect, to go back to Africa.26
Given his constant concern to adopt new approaches to film, it was perhaps
inevitable that Ouedraogo would be one of three francophone filmmakers
(alongside Cisse and Jean-Pierre Bekolo) to explore English-language production, in Zimbabwe and South Africa after the fall of apartheid. Though critical
reaction to the film was mixed, Ouedraogo has described the resulting film,
Kini & Adams, as ‘the great work of my cinematic career, with an alternative
vision and curiosity for the world’.27 The film is the story of a lifelong friendship, that of Kini and Adams, who start with a dream that they gradually begin
to fulfil, only for differences to emerge. Adams, a lone dreamer, who becomes
increasingly jealous of Kini’s success, eventually succumbs to despair. Here we
have characters both drawn to and repulsed by the Western concept of individualism, and Olivier Barlet rightly draws attention to ‘the way they hesitantly and
painfully weave this fabric of the “revolt of the self ” . . . in a manner which is
quite different from the Western model’.28 Though he admits his command of
English is limited, Ouedraogo handles the dialogue well and gets good performances from his two key players, Vusi Kunene and David Mohloki, who both
come from South African popular theatre.
Another Burkina Faso director of the 1990s whose work demands consideration is the self-taught filmmaker Drissa Touré (born 1952). The first of his two
features, Laada (1990), is a rural fable about the false lure of city life which offers
an idyllic portrayal of Bambara village life and traditional culture. In contrast,
Haramuya (1993) offers a powerfully realistic image of life in an ugly shanty
town on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. In the bars, cafés, and above all on the
streets, prostitution, drugs, cheating, robbery and corruption abound. Greed,
deceit, lust and addiction are commonplace among the dirt, junk and poverty,
and the police are omnipresent. The film does not have a strong narrative line but
instead offers a a collage of scenes following, in an intermittent fashion, the lives
of a dozen or more characters of all types and ages. This is a world of shifting
interactions and relations, where traditional values are questioned by the young
and the simple certainties of patriarchal Islam lead to gross distortions. The
portrait of a 1990s African city that emerges is vivid and engrossing.
In Mali Abdoulaye Ascofaré (born 1949), who trained like so many Malian
directors at the VGIK in Moscow, made Faraw! Mother of the Dunes/Faraw!
Une mère des sables (1996). This is the story of a courageous woman, for whom
everything is a struggle: there is no money, her husband is mentally disabled and
her three children all cause problems. The action is compressed into a single day
and largely expressed physically, but the story is always seen from the protagonist Zamiatou’s perspective and her memories and dreams are included.
Zamiatou is totally fatalistic in her submission to what she conceives as God’s
will, but eventually she solves her problems by obtaining a donkey from the
man she should have married twenty years earlier and becoming a water-seller.
Next morning she can face the dawn with a smile. Just as the action is totally
focused and the time-scale pared down, so too the visual style is very composed,
comprising largely static, long-held shots. What is remarkable is the physical
intensity which Ascofaré brings to the playing and the brutal clarity with which
the key themes – grinding poverty, family tensions, the sexual demands of the
French workers – are expressed. One understands Tahar Chikhaoui’s view that
Faraw! is ‘one of the important African films of recent years’.29 Though
Zamiatou’s sons have picked up new ideas from school, the daughter is totally
repressed, forbidden even to ask questions, and there is little hope for change
(the title ‘faraw’ means total deadlock or standstill).
As we shall see in Chapter 9, African filmmakers’ forty-year concern to probe
the realities of African life after independence continues to form an essential
part of the work of many of the younger filmmakers born after independence,
in the 1960s and 1970s.
1. Tahar Chikhaoui, ‘Le cinéma tunisien de la maladroite euphorie au juste désarroi’,
in Abdelmajid Cherfi et al. (eds), Aspects de la civilisation tunisienne (Tunis: Faculté
de Lettres de Manouba, 1998).
2. Tahar Chikhaoui, ‘Maghreb: De l’épopée au regard intime’, in Jean-Michel Frodon
(ed.), Au Sud du Cinéma (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma/Arte Editions, 2004), p. 26.
3. Brahim Tsaki, interview in Actes des Septièmes Rencontres de Montpellier
(Montpellier: Fédération des Oeuvres Laïques de l’Hérault, 1986), p. 68.
4. Brahim Tsaki, interview in El Watan, Algiers, 17 January 1997, p. 14.
5. ‘The Barber of the Poor Quarter, a unique and mythical film by the no less mythical Mohamed Reggab, the title says it all’, according to Ahmed Fertat, ‘Le Cinéma
marocain aujourd’hui’, in Michel Serceau (ed.), Cinémas du Maghreb (Paris:
Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 111, 2004), p. 55.
6. Jillali Ferhati, interview, in Serceau, Cinémas du Maghreb, p. 175.
7. Ibid.
8. Kevin Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca: M. A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan
Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 230.
9. Nouri Bouzid, ‘New Realism in Arab Cinema: The Defeat-Conscious Cinema’, in
Ferial J. Ghazoul (ed.), Arab Cinematics: Towards the New and the Alternative
(Cairo: Alif 15, 1995), p. 243.
10. Cheick Oumar Sissoko, interview, in Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike (ed.),
Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 183.
11. Ibid., p. 184.
12. Pierre Yaméogo, interview with Olivier Barlet, www.africultures, 19 July 2002.
13. Tahar Chikaoui, ‘Le Cinéma tunisien des années 90: permanences et spécifités’,
Horizons Maghrébins 46, Toulouse, 2002, pp. 114–15.
14. Ibid., p. 115.
15. For a fuller discussion of aspects of women’s filmmaking, see two volumes edited
by Kenneth W. Harrow: With Open Eyes: Women and African Cinema (Amsterdam
and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi/Matutu 19, 1997) and African Cinema: Postcolonial and
Feminist Readings (Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, 1999).
Also Abdelkrim Gabous, Silence, elles tournent!: Les femmes et le cinéma en Tunisie
(Tunis: Cérès Editions/CREDIF, 1998).
16. Zahia Smail Salhi, ‘Maghrebi Women Film-makers and the Challenge of
Modernity: Breaking Women’s Silence’, in Naomi Sakr (ed.), Women and Media in
the Middle East: Power Through Self-Expression (London and New York:
I. B. Tauris, 2004), p. 71.
17. Abdelkaader Lagtaâ, cited in Kevin Dwyer, ‘ “Hidden, Unsaid, Taboo” in
Moroccan Cinema: Abdelkader Lagtaâ’s Challenge to Authority’, Framework
43: 2, Detroit, 2002, pp. 117–33.
18. Ahmed Ferhat, ‘Le Cinéma marocain aujourd’hui: les atouts et les contraintes d’une
émergence annoncée’, in Serceau, Cinémas du Maghreb, p. 52.
19. Fatima Mernissi, cited in Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca, p. 190,
20. For a discusion of this and Tazi’s comedy hit, see Kevin Dwyer, ‘Un pays, une décennie, deux comédies’, in Serceau, Cinémas du Maghreb, pp. 86–91.
21. Saïd Bakiri, interview, in Samuel Lelièvre (ed.), Cinémas africains, Une oasis dans
le désert? (Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 106, 2003), p. 211.
22. Azzedine Meddour, interview, Serceau, Cinémas du Maghreb, p. 214.
23. Ekema Agbaw, ‘The Cameroonian Film as Instrument of Social and Political
Change: 1991–1992’, in Maureen N. Eke, Kenneth W. Harrow and Emmanuel
Yewah (eds), African Images: Recent Studies and Text In Cinema (Trenton, NJ and
Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, 2000), p. 91.
24. Jean-Marie Teno, cited in ‘Afrique je te plumerai!’, www.africultures, 13 November
25. Idrissa Ouegraogo, cited in Lelièvre, Cinémas africains, p. 128.
26. See Olivier Barlet, African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze (London: Zed Books,
2000), p. 211.
27. Idrissa Ouedraogo, interview in Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike (ed.), Questioning
African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2002), p. 152.
28. Barlet, African Cinemas, p. 42.
29. Tahar Chikhaoui, ‘Juste courageuse, la mère’, Cinécrits 17, Tunis, 1999, p. 25.
The past continues to speak to us. But this is no longer a simple, ‘factual’
past, since our relation to it is, like the child’s relation to the mother,
always-already ‘after the break’. It is always constructed though memory,
fantasy, narrative and myth. Cultural identities are the points of identification or suture, which are made, within the discourses of history and
Stuart Hall1
Although the pioneering films tell important stories, their points of view
and their originality in general are what makes them uniquely African. The
points of view taken by the younger directors break the mould of traditional paradigms and allow new ‘revolutionary’ forms of expression and
interrogative models of narrative patterns and aesthetic orientations to
proliferate, thus challenging entrenched notions of cinematic orthodoxy.
Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike2
The situation facing the new African filmmakers is very much akin to the
predicament which Réda Bensmaïa, from a Maghrebian perspective, attributes
to contemporary Algerian writers: ‘Under today’s postmodern conditions, it is
not geographical or even political boundaries that determine identities, but
rather a plane of consistency that goes beyond the traditional idea of nation and
determines its new transcendental configuration’.3 To help define this new relationship between artists and their national context, Bensmaïa coins the term
‘experimental nations’, so named because ‘they are above all nations that
writers have had to imagine and explore as if they were territories to rediscover
and stake out, step by step, countries to invent and to draw while creating one’s
For those African filmmakers who experienced independence as adults, the
question of national cultural identity was naturally an on-going concern in
subsequent years. Many, like Ousmane Sembene, keep to the views they had
at the time, and this is reflected in their post-independence work. But most of
the next generation, those who had been children or adolescents at independence – and the bulk (over 60 per cent) of all Maghrebian and Sub-Saharan
filmmakers fall into this category – could not approach notions of national
and cultural identity in the same unself-conscious way. Instead of simply capturing or reproducing a reality which was deemed simply ‘to be there’,
a number of them were more concerned with recreating imaginary or mythical worlds of the past – that of the African village community or the Tunisian
medina, for example – or searching their own personal histories for exemplary
tales from the world of childhood. This placing of the past above the present,
the personal above the social, was, however, not necessarily a withdrawal
from social commitment. In choosing this path, the filmmakers were not
ignoring current social or political problems, but rather finding – by distancing themselves from all-too-present immediate concerns – new ways of confronting them.
Indeed it could be argued that African filmmakers are in fact too serious in
their approach, as has been conceded by the Ivoirian filmmaker KramoLanciné Fadika who asks, ‘Why must we just be intellectual when Louis de
Funès gets laughs in African cinemas?’5 Very few African filmmakers have
produced out-and-out comedies, and comedy can in no way be regarded as
one of the ‘traditions’ of African cinema. Yet those comedies which have been
made have often found huge audiences. In an article on Moroccan film
comedy, Kevin Dwyer notes that though Moroccan cinema has barely half
a dozen comic films, the two most popular Moroccan films of all times –
Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi’s Looking for my Wife’s Husband/A la
recherche du mari de ma femme (1993) and Hakim Noury’s She is Diabetic
and Hypertensive and She Refuses to Die/Elle est diabétique et hypertendue
et elle refuse de crever (2000) – are both comedies. Since Dwyer wrote his
article, another comedy, Saïd Naciri’s Crooks/Les Bandits (2004), has surpassed even these two films in popularity. Dwyer can offer no reason for the
avoidance of humour: ‘Humour serves as an outlet which could please
Moroccan filmmakers seeking to stigmatise the problems of their society’.6
Similarly, the most popular film in Tunisian film history is Ferid Boughedir’s
comedy of a little boy’s discovery of sex, Halfaouine (1990). South of the
Sahara the list is also limited, with only Daniel Kamwa from Cameroon –
especially with Pousse-Pousse (1975) and Our Daughter/Notre fille (1980) –
and Henri Duparc from Ivory Coast – with a succession of six features
culminating in Rue Princesse (1994) and Coffee-Coloured/Une couleur café
(1997) – emerging as specialists. Yet, as Olivier Barlet notes, comedy can serve
a serious function, as well as merely stimulating laughter: ‘Rather than promoting the projection of their own difficulties on to other peoples or social
groups, black styles of humour guide human beings in unravelling the inextricably tangled threads of their destiny’.7
The approach of the majority of African filmmakers seeking a serious alternative to social realism is captured with great clarity in the second part of Stuart
Hall’s two-part definition of cultural identity:
Cultural identity in this second sense, is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as
of ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture.
Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation . . .
Identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned
by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.8
Faced with the inherent social, political, economic and cultural contradictions
of postcolonial Africa, some filmmakers felt the need to escape the everyday
and find a new starting point for their work. From the beginning of the 1970s
too, a number of filmmakers argued that new formal structures, owing far
less to the conventions of mainstream Western cinema, were needed if African
cinemas were to reflect the reality of postcolonial rule from a truly African perspective. The Moroccan director Moumen Smihi, for example, talked of
‘forms which would function precisely to translate another way of living and
thinking, another culture, other social options than those put forward up to
now by the West’.9
As we have seen in Chapters 5 and 6, there has been a constant, dominant
stream, over the past forty years, of socially realist films which accept identity
as a given and are based on a sense of common historical experiences and
shared cultural codes. Alternative or experimental films which call into question that approach have been sporadic, though none the less valuable for that.
Most often these have been isolated, individual works within the overall output
of a filmmaker who has earlier worked in, or subsequently reverts to, the realist
mainstream (as with Smihi, Med Hondo, Souleymane Cisse or Merzak
Allouache). On occasion these questioning works are virtually the sole output
of a filmmaker denied further funding for decades (Djibril Diop Mambety or
Hamid Benani), and indeed sometimes they represent the filmmaker’s only
occasion to realise a full feature-length work (Ahmed Bouanani, Farouk
Beloufa, Assia Djebar or Moncef Dhouib). Such a non-realistic approach often
demands a complex response from the spectator if its social or political commitment is to be understood. As Olivier Barlet has said of the Paris screening
of Souleymane Cisse’s Yeelen, the French audience saw only the magic, ‘while
the film is nothing but a tool serving a political message against the appropriation of the power of knowledge by the fathers’.10
The 1970s
In Sub-Saharan Africa, two isolated examples of an alternative approach are
the debut films of two major figures in African cinema, both of whom are selftaught: Med Hondo (born 1936) – born in Mauritania but based in Paris – and
the Senegalese Djibril Diop Mambety (1945–98). Both later continued to work
in alternative forms, Hondo with a musical spectacle and Diop Mambety with
a formalised literary adaptation.
Hondo’s debut film Soleil O (1970) reflects his earlier work in theatre, particularly in the opening sketches of Christian baptism and colonial army
recruitment performed by a small team of actors switching roles. But as the film
proceeds, its stylistic means broaden to take in documentary footage, interviews and naturalistically played re-enactments, and there is a constant interplay (and frequent juxtaposition) of voice and image. The film opens with a
ringing affirmation of African identity: ‘We had our own civilisation. We forged
our own iron. We had our own songs and dances . . . We had our own literature, our own religion, our own science, our own methods of education’. But
it ends in a scene of alienation and anguish, with the protagonist’s screams and
the burning of portraits of the great 1960s revolutionary heroes, Malcolm X,
Che Guevara and Patrice Lumumba among them. The film’s central portion
follows the experience of an African immigrant from his arrival in Paris
through a series of encounters which allow Hondo to explore a wide range of
issues: housing, work and sexuality, as well as inner doubts and illusions. Both
dialogue and voice-over point out the mixture of gullibility and hypocrisy, passivity and inner violence that characterise the interactions of black and white
Parisian residents. Even after thirty-five years Soleil O retains its power,
remarkable for its certainty, its richness and its balanced tone. As Ibrahima
Signaté wrote in 2002, it is ‘the founding film. The one from which everything
flows. Hence its importance. It announces, in one way or another, all the others.
As much from the thematic point of view as on the level of film technique’.11
After making documentary films supporting the Polisario Front, Hondo
turned to overtly stylised fiction with West Indies/West Indies, ou les nègres
marrons de la liberté (1979), made with part-funding from Algeria and
Mauritania. The result is a piece combining music, sound effects, dance, declamation and song, entirely shot on the huge set of a slave ship built in a disused
Parisian railway station. West Indies is a colourful musical spectacle, ranging
back and forth between the present and the origins of the slave trade between
France and the Antilles. The staging – like the opening of Soleil O – reflects
Hondo’s theatrical background in the frontality of the positioning of the actors,
but the whole is lively, vivid and vigorous. The freedom from a narrative based
on individual, personal stories allows Hondo to raise a whole number of the
contradictions thrown up by slavery and its impact on West Indian society,
as well to confront European hypocrisy. The film does not, however, give a fully
alternative history, since all the dates and names are those of the coloniser, while
the Antillean people remain anonymous, their struggle abstracted into dance.
The ending, for example, is a vivid communal dance heralding a new dawn of
liberation which dissolves into a blur of whirling colours and shapes. As always,
Hondo’s work stands out from the mainstream of African production – a perfect
example of a work restoring imaginary fullness – in Stuart Hall’s sense – and
offers resources of resistance and identity.
In Senegal Djibril Diop Mambety directed just two features – Touki Bouki
(1973) and Hyenas/Hyènes, which was shot nineteen years later – together with
five shorter works, in a thirty-year career as a filmmaker, but the importance of
his work for African cinema and the personal affection with which he is
regarded is illustrated by the appearance of three books about him and his work
since his death in 1998. Nar Sene stresses the personal aspects of Diop
Mambety’s work, which he sees as a single whole: ‘The characters in his films
just accompany him, reply to him, do not exist on their own, but to give him
existence as the focus of looks and attention, waiting for answers slow to come,
on the part of the person who is looked at: Himself’.12 Sada Niang places his
emphasis on the narrative structure: ‘Touki Bouki is an assembly of facts and
characters, guided by a barely sketched-in drama, clarified gradually as the
action unfolds. The film demands of its spectators a “synthetic” approach’.13
For Anny Wynchank, the key to Touki Bouki is oral story-telling: ‘Despite the
modern techniques used and the immediacy of the subject it presents, this film
is profoundly anchored in traditional African culture . . . Numerous motifs,
like the formulas of oral tales, recur in the film. A didactic, Mambety warns his
fellow citizens against the illusion of escape’.14
In a very real sense they are all correct, since Diop Mambety’s work – typified
by Touki Bouki – is a very personal mixture of contradictions: both modern and
traditional in its narrative styles, didactic and free-flowing, humorous and yet
with a very strong social commitment. Basically the film is the story of two young
people from Dakar, Anta and Mory, who fall in love. Both are outsiders – she
dresses as a boy and he spends his time endlessly circling on a motorbike ornamented with the horns of the cattle he used to herd as a child in rural Senegal –
so it is hardly surprising that they decide to emigrate to France. In this they are
following, it seems, the director’s own unsuccessful attempt to stow away on
board a boat bound for France.
Everything in the film is related to this story, but in a very real sense it is little
more than a thread on which to hang, bead-like, a series of always vivid but
often very differently shaped stories. In a way that some critics have compared
to the filmmakers of the French New Wave, to which he had some access through
the French cultural centre in Dakar,15 Diop Mambety follows the couple’s
progress in zigzag and fragmentary fashion, as they travel, make love, steal, hide
from the police and, eventually, reach their goal, the harbour. He uses their
enthusiasm and energy to hold the spectator’s attention, as he constantly plays
games with space and time, showing scenes out of order and including flashbacks and flashes forward to other parts of the narrative. One particularly successful technique as they travel in and around Dakar is to stay behind when they
have passed through a space (to watch the slaughter of the cattle in the opening
scene, to follow a fat policeman’s plodding progress, to show two women fighting, and so on). Scenes of direct interaction mingle with memory images and
dreamlike encounters (such as Anta’s vision of the savage in the tree who steals
Mory’s motorbike). Throughout its length Touki Bouki includes purely symbolic
images of blood and water, sea and sacrifice. Since the film begins and ends with
the young Mory riding across the savannah with a herd of oxen, the whole film
could be a little boy’s dream. It certainly has the necessary liveliness and intense
sense of longing, as well as overflowing wit and imagination.
Diop Mambety’s second feature, Hyenas/Hyènes (1992), has a much stronger
dramatic storyline and fewer digressions, no doubt because it is a fairly faithful
version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Swiss play The Visit/Der Besuch der Alten
Dame. Here an impoverished African village greets the return of its richest excitizen, Lingère Ramatou, who offers them all great wealth, but only if they kill
the lover who betrayed her when she was just seventeen. The plot parallels the
progress towards acceptance of the lover, Dramaan, with the opposite trajectory
of the villagers, who immediately buy luxuries on credit and whose greed becomes
insatiable. The film ends, inevitably, with Dramaan’s death. The Africanisation of
the fable works remarkably well, not just because Diop Mambety punctuates the
story and comments on its action with animal images, but also because the subject
matter – love, betrayal, greed – is universal. The story gives the director plenty of
scope for striking symbolic imagery: Lingère Ramatou’s golden hand and foot
(replacing limbs burned off in a plane crash), her visually striking entourage
(including a Japanese chauffeur played by Diop’s sister-in-law), the bright new
imported yellow shoes everyone is suddenly wearing, the cloak that is all that
remains of Dramaan at the end. There are also seemingly unrelated scenes cut into
the narrative (a mosque that appears from nowhere, a funfair and firework
display suddenly coming into view), perhaps, as Anny Wynchank argues, to
broaden the film’s meaning to take in the whole continent of Africa.16 The drama
is watched over by Diop Mambety himself as Gana, the judge who expelled
Lingère Ramatou from the village (on the basis of false testimony produced by
Dramaan) and who is now the wealthy woman’s valet. While there are as many
truths about Africa as there are ambiguities woven into the plot, Hyenas is indeed
‘a parable that is radically different from the unobtrusive realism favoured by
many African directors’.17
In the Maghreb too there is work of real insight and imagination, in the form
of a handful of outstanding 1970s first features in Morocco. Most of these were
independently produced and made by filmmakers who had studied filmmaking
at IDHEC in Paris during the 1960s: Hamid Benani’s Wechma/Traces (1970),
Moumen Smihi’s El Chergui/El Chergui ou le silence violent (1975) and Ahmed
Bouanani’s Mirage (1979). To these may be added the debut film of the Polishtrained director Mustafa Derkaoui, About Some Meaningless Events/De
quelques événements sans signification (1974), which seems not to have been
released. Wechma is the bleak tale of a boy who is adopted by a man to whom
he cannot relate and who drifts into petty crime, only to die meaninglessly in a
motorbike accident. El Chergui traces the equally unhappy fate of a woman
who dies trying to prevent her husband from taking a second wife. Both films
castigate the rigidities and superstitions of traditional patriarchal society,
mixing realistic study of contemporary society with symbolic images and often
disjointed and enigmatic narratives. Mirage, by contrast, adopts the motif of
the journey from countryside to town, tracing the passage of a peasant who has
found a sackful of money. But the town is a nightmarish, labyrinthine world,
full of strange encounters and constant off-screen hints of violence, and the narrative, which is shot through with cinematic references (Chaplin, Fellini, and
others), constantly shifts registers.
These lively and inventive 1970s films were largely without immediate
sequels. Bouanani returned to film editing and, later, worked as scriptwriter with
the young Daoud Aoulad Syad. Benani had to wait twenty-five years before
completing his second feature, A Prayer for the Absent/La Prière de l’absent
(1995), which did not find a distributor in Morocco.18 Smihi moved towards
mainstream filmmaking, but Derkaoui kept the experimental approach alive
with a series of highly complex self-reflective films during the 1980s and 1990s,
beginning with The Beautiful Days of Sheherazade/Les Beaux jours de
Chahrazade (1982). In doing so, he became, as Ahmed Ferhat notes, ‘the most
prolific Moroccan filmmaker and paradoxically the one least seen by the
public’,19 with three successive films in the 1990s getting no Moroccan public
screening at all. However, he achieved one of the major commercial successes of
the new century with his eighth film (and first comedy), The Loves of Hadj
Mokhtar Soldi/Les Amours de Hadj Mokhtar Soldi (2001).
Very different is the work in Tunisia of the theatrically trained collaborators
from the independently run Nouveau Théâtre de Tunis: Fadhel Jaïbi (born
1945), Fadhel Jaziri (born 1948) and their colleagues, Mohamed Driss, Jalila
Baccar and Habib Masrouki: These developed a quite distinctive style, much
influenced by twentieth-century European drama, in their two complex theatrical adaptations, The Wedding/La Noce (1978) and Arab/‘Arab (1988). The
Wedding, which was collectively signed, owed much to the insight and technical skill of Habib Masrouki who had studied filmmaking in Paris (he died, aged
just thirty-three, two years later). The group’s explicit aim was to renew a
Tunisian cinema they described as hovering between a ‘Zorro’ level and a ‘zero’
level, and ‘to narrate through fables the relations between people, class relations, sexual relations’.20 The film proved a critical success abroad but flopped
in Tunisia where, as they wryly confessed, they had thought ‘that they were
going to beat imperialist productions on their own battle field’.21 The Wedding
owed much, it seems, to Bertolt Brecht’s work (it opens with the Kurt Weill song
Mack the Knife sung in German) and the filmmaking style (here and in Arab)
was consciously influenced by German expressionism.22 Shot in 16mm and in
black and white, but with a very elaborate soundtrack, the film makes few concessions to the audience. It was shot in a single location (an old and crumbling
flat) and concentrates claustrophobically on a couple alone for the first time on
their wedding night. The camera focuses implacably on their words and smallest gestures, as they spend the night discussing sexuality and jealousy, potency
and failure, life and fantasy – more like an old married couple than newly-weds.
It is a film unlike any other in Tunisian cinema, except, that is, Arab which followed ten years later.
Jaïbi and Jaziri, credited as co-directors of Arab, here have access to 35mm,
colour, a fully professional production team and international co-production
finance, but the film has the same claustrophobic atmosphere, being largely shot
in a deconsecrated basilica on a hill at Carthage just outside Tunis. Jalila Baccar
again plays the lead, this time opposite an actor with no Nouveau Théâtre connections: Lamine Nahdi. The film begins with the arrival in Tunis of an air
hostess Houria seeking news of her lover, who has disappeared, from Khélil,
a photographer wounded in the war in the Lebanon. The film is not a realistic
account of current political events, but a fable in which Houria is transported
back into the Arab past, a time of chivalry but also of fatal rivalries, abductions, jealousies and honour killings. In the course of a very complicated action
all the characters kill each other, except Houria who returns to the Lebanon
pregnant with Khélil’s child. Despite the many deaths, the directors claim that
Arab is ‘none the less a film of hope. You have to have reached the extreme of
tragedy and violence for change to be possible’.23 As its title indicates, Arab sets
out to question Arab identity, not to show the fate of individuals but to point
to a collective failure of Arab culture, as expressed both in its historical past
and in its present wars and conflicts.
In Algeria the bulk of the state-controlled production followed a pattern of
conventional Western-style narrative, giving little scope for innovation. But a
handful of films did, to some extent, challenge the dominant orthodoxy. The
most commercially successful of these is the first film of Merzak Allouache
(born 1944), which brought a fresh look at young people in Algerian society
and an interesting stylistic approach. Omar Gatlato (1976) is basically a study
of male inhibition. The hero, Omar, likes to think of himself as a macho male,
but falls in love with a girl whose voice he has heard but whom he has never
seen. Faced with meeting the real flesh-and-blood woman who embodies his
dreams, he flees in terror. Allouache treats this light comic theme ingeniously
through a play with the soundtrack, using three forms of verbal narration
(direct address to camera, voice-over and inner monologue). Initially Omar has
all the authority of a film narrator, presenting himself directly to the camera,
describing details of his life in Algiers. He has a weakness for romantic music
(Algerian chaabi and the soundtracks of Hindi movies) and when he loses his
proudest possession, his tape recorder, his life is plunged into crisis. The
replacement recorder comes with a tape bearing an unknown woman’s inner
thoughts, and this unexpected intimacy with a woman in Algeria’s totally segregated society overwhelms him. His loss of inner certainty is revealed through
shifts in the structure of the soundtrack, as his confident assertions to camera
and authoritative voice-over predictions about events become querulous
doubts voiced through a troubled inner monologue.24 Allouache adopted a similarly experimental approach in his second feature, The Adventures of a
Hero/Les Aventures d’un héros (1978), which traced a mythical hero’s trajectory through time and space, but his subsequent work is in a more conventional
realistic style and has been discussed in Chapter 6.
More controversial, and markedly less successful commercially, are the four
features directed by the self-taught director Mohamed Bouamari (born 1941).
The best known of these is The Charcoal Burner/Le Charbonnier (1972) which
was widely shown (including at Cannes) as a pioneer example of the shift in
direction in the Algerian state’s priorities from depictions of the liberation struggle to advocacy of the so-called Agrarian Revolution. At the time it was seen as
a film in the documentary-realist tradition – Jean-Louis Bory compared it to
Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran,25 while Ali Mocki (from a Marxist perspective)
asserted that ‘the director’s ideological limitations prevent him from defining
the class struggle in Algeria in a correct (materialist) way’.26 Certainly
Bouamari’s statements of the time favoured such an approach: ‘The camera
must be focused on the people of the countryside, showing their difficulties,
troubles and hopes. We must prepare the objective conditions for a radical
transformation of their mentality’.27 But re-viewed thirty years later, Bouamari’s
film seems very different. The Charcoal Burner has numerous early sequences
of observational filming of the repetitive nature of the protagonist’s work, but
these are interspersed with silent comedy sequences and an inventive, non-naturalistic use of sound effects (simple phrases of music, natural sound and the
repeated noise of forest frogs). In terms of the overall structure, some seemingly
key scenes are missing or shot mute, and the transformation brought by the
coming of the new ways is depicted not as a material event, but as the protagonist’s dream (even nightmare). Quite how the transition to the gleaming
factory with its white-clad workers shown at the end is achieved remains a
mystery. Though the film is, on the surface, a hymn to progress, the gaps in the
narrative and frequent lack of synchronisation of image and sound undercut
this message. As Sabry Hafez notes, the result is a profoundly ambiguous image
of the Agrarian Revolution: ‘The linear narrative of the story of the disintegration of the old world of Belkacem, the charcoal maker, under the onslaught of
‘progress’ clashes with the ostensible linearity and undermines its logic.’28
Bouamari had achieved a high reputation for his early short films and he continued to innovate throughout his career. But while his later features are characterised by an ability to create striking, even startling, scenes, he shows far less
skill in sustaining a ninety-minute narrative. The Inheritance/L’Héritage (1974)
deals with the reconstruction of a village destroyed by the war and is clearly
intended to symbolise the creation of a new independent Algeria, but the actual
story – interspersed with caricatured scenes of colonial life and oddly placed
moments of comedy – seems to take place in a social void. First Step/Premier
pas (1979), which ostensibly treats the new freedoms for women in Algeria,
spends its first quarter of an hour introducing us to the director and cast, before
the action they have assembled to enact begins. The narrative comprises a set
of variations rather than a logically developing plot and the tone veers wildly
between conventional fictional filming , straight-to-camera improvisation and
self-consciously theatrical performance. The Refusal/Le Refus (1982) shifts its
focus to immigrant life in France, with the dialogue largely in French, though
the film was apparently shot in Oran (which would account for a number of
inconsistencies). The film seeks to relate the nationalisation of the Algeria’s oilfields to a worsening of life for Algerian immigrants, but the storyline jumps
disconcertingly between time levels, and the jumbled sequence of events never
creates a plot in the accepted meaning of the term.
Aside from Allouache’s debut film and the work of Bouamari, there are two
other films – both the sole features in their directors’ output – that stand aside
from the mainstream of Algerian 1970s production (neither was produced by
the state organisation ONCIC). A quite unique view of post-war Algiers was
provided by Mohamed Zinet (born 1932), dramatist and theatrical director as
well as actor in a number of Algerian and French films, who had fought and
been wounded with the ANL during the liberation struggle. Tahia ya didou
(1971) is a film produced on the margins, by the city authority, in which the
action is punctuated by songs by the Algiers poet Momo (Himoud Brahimi) and
accompanied by a vivid and original use of sound. The film uses the tourist
activities of a couple returning to Algiers where the husband had served in the
French army as the pretext for a vivid portrait of the diversity of the city and
its people, shot in observational documentary style (it was originally planned
as a short documentary). Initially the tone is light-hearted, with plenty of
humour, comic chases and some good jokes (‘What’s capitalism?’ ‘The exploitation of man by man’. ‘Then what’s socialism?’ ‘The opposite’). The dramatic
mood deepens, however, when it emerges that the man was previously involved
in the torture of Algerian patriots, and it comes to a climax in a restaurant
where he has to flee from the seemingly relentless gaze of a man he once tortured. But the victim (played by Zinet) is in fact blind because of his mistreatment in prison.
Farouk Beloufa (born 1947) succeeded in making only one feature, Nahla
(1947), produced by Algerian television but shot in 35mm for cinema release.
Beloufa’s independence of spirit is shown by the fact that his earlier featurelength documentary, Insurrectionnelle, was censored and collectively re-edited
to emerge as Guerre de Libération (1978). In Nahla he is one of the few
Maghrebian directors to look at events abroad in the Arab world, in this case
the situation in Lebanon in 1975, shot on location at a time when violence was
again beginning to erupt. An Algerian journalist, Larbi, arrives in Beirut on the
eve of the civil war and tries to get to grips with the situation there, through his
contacts with three very diverse women – the tormented singer Nahla, the angry
and aggressive journalist Mahda and the ever smiling Palestinian activist, Hind –
together with the men (business men, politicians, journalists and guerrilla fighters) circling around them. The film is, in essence, a beautifully composed and
fluently shot conversation piece, with Nahla’s songs and contemporary newsreel
material well integrated into the flow of the narrative (the film was co-scripted
by Beloufa and the novelist Rachid Boudjedra). Beloufa also handles excellently
the chaotic action scenes when the civil war suddenly erupts in street battles, in
one of which Larbi is wounded. Though, at 140 minutes, the film is perhaps too
long, it is excellently edited (by Moufida Tlatli) and sound is used imaginatively
(as in the scene where the newly arrived Larbi wanders for the first time through
the streets of Beirut). The film as a whole is a kind of collage of everyday events
and conversations, coloured by fears, anticipations and echoes of the past.
Inevitably, Larbi does not solve the puzzle of Lebanese politics and power struggles, and the film ends inconclusively with a ceasefire which is as unexpected as
the initial flare-up of violence. Merzak Allouache, Beloufa’s contemporary who
followed the same training route, from INA in Algiers to IDHEC in Paris, paid
a fine tribute to the film in Les Deux Ecrans:
My pride in seeing this film, sequence after sequence, was to perceive the
author’s signature and that of the director of photography. A work based
on an aesthetic, for me that’s something capital, because slowly, and
despite all the problems which our cinema is encountering, we are entering a period where we are going to have to debate, perhaps subjectively,
cinema as cinema, film as film.29
The only other major experimental film of the 1970s north or south of the
Sahara is the first Algerian feature-length work to be completed by a woman
filmmaker: La Nouba/La Nouba des femmes du mont Chenoa (1978), directed
by the French-language novelist Assia Djebar (born 1936). At one level this is
the simple story of a woman returning home to meditate on the failure of her
marriage. But on another the film is a deeply autobiographical work in which
Djebar explores her own past in Cherchell, where she was born, and the surrounding mountains from which her family came. The ‘nouba’ of the title is a
traditional dance form in which the musicians take turns in coming to the forefront, and the film has a very musical structure, reminiscent of the lyrical form
of Djebar’s novels. It mixes a variety of styles (drama and documentary, historical re-enactments and formal interviews, music and meditation) and time
levels (that of the enacted tale of personal exploration, the recounted stories
of the immediate past, the more distant history evoked by the grandmother and
the filmmaker’s own reflections recorded after the shooting). Djebar occupies
the paradoxical position of an Algerian novelist whose first language is French
and her voice-over commentary here is in the French language. But the film,
rather than being simply an evocation of a place and its past from the outside,
is more aptly seen as an exploration of Arab women’s experiences from within,
through their voices as they evoke their own lives. Far removed from the maledominated realistic conformities of much state-sponsored Algerian mainstream
cinema, La Nouba is concerned to retell the stories of the women of Djebar’s
native region, ending with a celebration of their (often hidden) strengths, typified by the legendary heroine, Zoulikha. On a personal level too, La Nouba was
a truly creative experience, for it enabled Djebar to resume her novel writing
after a ten-year blockage. The series of novels that follow in the 1980s and
1990s are full of references to the making of the film and to the characters it
evokes, and in 2002 Zoulikha became the protagonist of a full-length novel, La
Femme sans sépulture.
1. Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representations’, Framework 36,
London, 1989, p. 72.
2. Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with
Filmmakers, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), p. xviii.
3. Réda Bensmaïa, Experimental Nations or The Invention of the Maghreb
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 8.
4. Ibid.
5. Fadika Kramo-Lancine, cited in Olivier Barlet, African Cinemas: Decolonizing the
Gaze, (London: Zed Books, 2000), p. 132.
6. Keven Dwyer, ‘Un pays, une décennie, deux comédies’, in Michel Serceau (ed.),
Cinémas du Maghreb (Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 111, 2004), p. 91. This
is virtually the only sustained analysis of African film comedy apart from the
chapter ‘Black Humours’ in Barlet, African Cinemas, pp. 129–42.
7. Barlet, African Cinemas, p. 141.
8. Hall, ‘Cultural Identity’, p. 7.
9. Moumen Smihi, ‘Moroccan Society as Mythology’, in John D. H. Downing (ed.),
Film and Politics in the Third World (New York: Praeger, 1987), p. 82.
10. Olivier Barlet, ‘Les Nouvelles stratégies des cinéastes africains’, Africultures 41,
Paris, 2001, p. 71.
11. Dominique Mondolini (ed.), Cinémas d’Afrique (ADPF/Notre Libraire: 149, Paris,
2002), p. 143.
12. Nar Sene, Djibril Diop Mambety: La caméra au bout . . . du nez (Paris:
L’Harmattan, 2001), p. 33.
13. Sada Niang, Djibril Diop Mambety: Un Cinéaste à Contre-Courant (Paris:
L’Harmattan, 2002), p. 117.
14. Anny Wynchank, Djibril Diop Mambety, ou Le Voyage du Voyant (Ivry-Sur Seine:
Editions A3, 2003), p. 67.
15. See, for example, Wynchank, Djibril Diop Mambety, pp. 55–6.
16. Ibid., p. 83.
17. Richard Porton, ‘Mambety’s Hyenas: Between Anti-Colonialism and the Critique
of Modernity’, Iris 18, Paris and Iowa, 1995, p. 97.
18. Ahmed Ferhat, ‘Le Cinéma marocain aujourd’hui: Les atouts et constraintes d’une
émergence annoncée’, in Michel Serceau (ed.), Les Cinémas du Maghreb (Paris:
Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 111, 2004), p. 59.
19. Ibid., p. 57.
20. Mouny Berrah, Victor Bachy, Mohand Ben Salama and Ferid Boughedir (eds),
Cinémas du Maghreb (Paris: CinémAction 14, 1981), p. 188.
21. Ibid., p. 190.
22. Fadhel Jaïbi, in Hédi Khelil, Le Parcours et la Trace: Témoignages et documents sur
le cinéma tunisien, (Salammbô: MediaCon, 2002), pp. 84–5.
23. Fadhel Jaîbi and Fadhel Jaziri, in Touti Moumen, Films tunisiens: Longs métrages
1967–98 (Tunis: Touti Moumen, 1998), p. 127.
24. For a full analysis of Omar Gatlato, see Roy Armes, Omar Gatlato (Trowbridge:
Flicks Books, 1998).
25. Jean-Louis Bory, cited in Claude-Michel Cluny, Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas
arabes (Paris: Sindbad, 1978), p. 156.
26. Ali Mocki, ‘Reflections on the Algerian Revolution’, in Hala Salmane, Simon
Hartog and David Wilson (eds), Algerian Cinema (London: British Film Institute,
1976), p. 45.
27. Mohamed Bouamari, cited in Cluny, Dictionnaire, p. 156.
28. Sabry Hafez, ‘Shifting Identities in Maghribi Cinema: The Algerian Paradigm’, in
Ferial J. Ghazoul, Arab Cinematics: Towards the New and the Alternative (Cairo:
Alif 15, 1995), p. 70.
29. Merzak Allouache, ‘Salut l’Artiste’, Les Deux Ecrans 15–16, Algiers, 1979, p. 64.
It’s the time when African filmmakers give up systematically being a
mirror for their space and their people, a condition which had long been
necessary for a reappropriation and decolonisation of thought. It was no
longer time just to denounce the mimicry and corruption of the elites. If
the established order is to be changed, there is a need for solid values: they
explore their culture and, to illustrate the need for social change, they
plunge into pure fiction.
Olivier Barlet1
African filmmakers’ quest for autonomy in the 1980s is matched, notes
Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, by ‘compelling experimentation’, which
‘enables us to appreciate African cinema as innovative and diverse’. Instead of
directly denouncing the Westernisation and corruption of postcolonial
African elites in realistically depicted stories of contemporary life, they choose
instead to re-examine the roots of African culture and to draw inspiration
from African oral story telling. Manthia Diawara has argued that there are
three reasons for the this shift to a precolonial past: to avoid censorship, to
search for precolonial African traditions that can contribute to the solution of
contemporary problems, and to develop a new film language.2 In following
this path, the new filmmakers also, and no doubt unexpectedly, created
images of Africa that found instant success in the West, where their films won
prizes at European festivals and received (comparatively) wide recognition
and distribution.
These 1980s and 1990s films offered new ways of accessing an African cultural identity and hence constituted a source of opposition to the alien forces
that have done so much to shape and distort Africa since independence. Such
films are – potentially at least – the ‘hidden texts’ of which Stuart Hall speaks,
which ‘restore an imaginary fullness or plenitude’. They are ‘resources of resistance and identity, with which to confront the fragmented and pathological
ways in which that experience has been re-constructed within the dominant
regimes of cinematic and visual representation of the West’.3 With the so-called
‘village’ films of Gaston Kabore and the early Idrissa Ouedraogo films, or the
trio of allegories made by Mohamed Chouikh and the studies of the Andalusian
heritage by Nacer Khemir, we also find for the first time a series of works in
which the same non-realistic styles can be explored and developed over a period
of time, rather than the isolated experimental works of the 1970s. The fact that
this cinema is novel in form and questions simple notions of cultural identity
and social realism does not mean that it is any less concerned with the realities
and contradictions of postcolonial Africa. Indeed, as Richard Porton has noted,
‘since allegory depicts, and indeed revels in, the “brokenness” of the world, it
is a genre that is well suited to the requirements of contemporary African directors’.4 As we shall see in Chapter 9, this trend continues in the work of many
of the younger filmmakers of the 2000s.
The 1980s
The new pattern was set by Gaston Kabore (born 1951), who, in addition to
being head of the film organisation in Burkina Faso (1977–88) and secretary
general of the filmmakers’ association, FEPACI (1985–97), has made a dozen or
more documentaries in addition to his feature films. Wend Kuuni (1982), the first
of his four features, is set at the height of the Mossi empire which could, according to its director, be 1420 or, equally, 1850.5 The film tells the story of a boy
found in the bush and adopted by a family in a nearby village. His experiences
have rendered him mute, but his adoptive parents give him a supportive environment and name him Wend Kuuni (Gift of God). Much of the film’s focus is on
the everyday events of village life – weaving, preparing food, fetching water,
herding goats – creating a largely idyllic vision of the African past set in an empty
landscape. Then the peace of the village is destroyed when a young bride noisily
rejects her aged husband because he is impotent. He commits suicide and the
subsequent discovery of his body triggers Wend Kuuni’s return to speech. At last
he can tell his personal story and that of his dead mother, driven out of her own
village when she refused to remarry after her husband had failed to return from
hunting. Visually, the narrative has an almost documentary simplicity, but the
audience’s response is enriched and shaped by both a voice-over narration and
René Guirma’s musical score. Wend Kuuni brought a fresh sense of storytelling
to African cinema, drawing on oral traditions to capture beautifully the slow,
calm rhythm of life where man and nature are in harmony.
Kabore’s second film, Zan Boko (1988), begins with the tranquil ordered life
in a Mossi village where the inhabitants’ lifestyle, gestures and words of greeting have not changed for centuries. Life quietly follows the rhythm of the
seasons. In the evenings the men gather to drink beer and listen to traditional
music, and the women sit together to talk of family matters, food and markets.
Everything has its true place. But then abruptly surveyors appear, measuring the
land and numbering all the traditional round huts, their intrusion underlined by
a switch to jazzy modern music. The protagonist Tinga argues that if they stick
together, the villagers will manage to keep their lifestyle, but this is not to be.
Soon the French-speaking developers and politicians have succeeded, and a huge
new villa, inhabited by a French-speaking bourgeois family, towers over Tinga’s
farmyard. Inevitably Tinga and his family are ejected, to make way for a swimming pool, and even the intervention of a sympathetic journalist cannot save
them. The live television programme raising their plight is cut off on the orders
of the state president and the journalist censured. Kabore tells his story simply
but effectively, without recourse to suspense or dramatic confrontations (we do
not see the actual expulsion of Tinga’s family, for example). The basic contrasts
are those found in twenty years of African filmmaking: tradition versus modernity, More speakers versus French speakers, powerlessness versus economic
weight. What is new is the political edge – characteristic of the 1980s – that
Kabore has added to his film: Burkina Faso is explicitly a corrupt society where
wealth buys influence and laws are designed to benefit the urban rich.
Kabore’s third feature, Rabi (1992), is his shortest and slightest, totally
lacking the political dimension of Zan Boko. Apart from the odd touches of
modern life, such as a bicycle and a radio, this could be set at any time in the
last 100 years. The film is the timeless tale of a boy growing up within a close
family and village environment, learning from everything around him: the old
man Pusga he helps look after, the work of his mother (a potter) and his father
(a blacksmith), his sister’s growth to womanhood and the games of the other
children. The particular story of Rabi revolves around the tortoise he loves but
eventually returns to the wild. As in his previous films, Kabore shows immense
respect for the rhythms of rural life and the sensibilities of children. The greybearded Pusga is the source of wisdom in the film and, as Hédi Khelil has
pointed out, Kabore’s style of direction can best be captured through one of
Pusga’s sayings: ‘You must never limit yourself to what is visible. You have to
spy out the vibrations of nature’.6
Kabore’s fourth and finest film, Buud Yam (1996), which won the top prize,
the Étalon de Yennenga, at FESPACO in 1997, is a further investigation of some
of Kabore’s favourite themes: memory, identity, the need to be true to oneself.
Though village life is depicted as before, with its slow rhythms and parochial
concerns, there is a new dynamism, as the protagonist does not just remain to
suffer or face defeat. Here he has a mission which involves him in constant restless movement, and this, in turn, gives the film its lively pace, beginning with
the opening pre-credit sequence of the hero riding furiously through the bush.
Set at the end of the nineteenth century at a bend in the River Niger, the film
updates the story of Wend Kuuni and Pughneere from Kabore’s first feature
(Wend Kuuni is played by the same actor, now fourteen years older). When
Wend Kuuni remembers the past, it is clips from the earlier film that we see. At
the beginning of the film, Wend Kuuni is full of anger at his fate and at his lost
father (the title means ‘spirit of the ancestors’). He is also at odds with the other
young men who see him – the outsider – as responsible for all the troubles the
village has suffered since his arrival. Still, the surface of life is fairly untroubled
until his sister Pughneere falls ill with some inexplicable sickness. It is Wend
Kuuni who must set out to find a legendary healer who alone can cure her. After
multiple adventures, including meeting the very man who found him unconscious in the forest over ten years earlier (as shown in Wend Kuuni) and being
lured by water genies (from which the voice of Pughneere saves him), he finds
the healer, only to slip and injure himself. But he and the healer do finally reach
Pughneere in time and she is cured. The film has all the simplicity and universality of a folk tale and it derives its pace and drive from the constant intercutting between Wend Kuuni’s adventures and Pughneere’s suffering. If Pughneere
is the obvious beneficiary of his journey, Wend Kuuni recognises, in the last of
his voice-over comments which have recurred throughout his travels, that he
himself has learned most. Hailed as a hero and reconciled with his accusers,
Wend Kuuni determines, in classic folktale style, to set out on a new quest, this
time to find his father. As Olivier Barlet observes, ‘The choice of a narrative
structure not far removed from folk tale represents not so much a pursuit of
timelessness as a desire for universality’.7 Certainly the film has been consciously shaped by Kabore to form one of those works constituting ‘resources
of resistance and identity’ of which Stuart Hall speaks.8
Following Kabore, his compatriot Idrissa Ouedraogo (born 1954) burst onto
the international scene in the late 1980s with a loose trilogy of ‘village’ films –
Yam daabo (1987), Yaaba (1989), Tilaï (1989) – all of which were premiered
at Cannes. Yam daabo (the title means ‘the choice’) is set in contemporary
Burkina Faso and reflects the director’s earlier work making socially committed documentaries. It is a simple film, shot in a pared-down 16mm style and
using little music or dialogue. It opens with crowds waiting in the empty
drought-plagued landscape of Gourga in the north for handouts of international aid. But one peasant, Salam, opts to take his family in search of a new
life. The focus is on everyday gestures and tasks, initially hunting for food and
water in a desert landscape and later farming and preparing food in a simple
village setting. One child is lost, but the family finds a river and fertile land
where they can resettle. Life goes on – meeting old acquaintances, surviving predictable family tensions between the young men, enjoying the birth of a new
child. Meanwhile, those who have stayed in Gourga still queue for aid handouts. Though his later work is more complex, Yam daabo remains one of
Ouedraogo’s own favourites, ‘a film from the heart’ made out of the director’s
direct knowledge of his country and its problems.9
In Yam daabo only the Ouagadougou scenes depict a world of modernity: elsewhere activities such as cooking and farming use totally traditional methods and
utensils. In Yaaba (which means ‘grandmother’) this process is taken a stage
further and we enter the same totally timeless world, untouched by colonialism,
as that of Wend Kuuni. The film is set in a village where life goes on in the traditional way, with drinking and infidelity, quarrels and reconciliations, all of
which are treated with sympathy: everyone has their reasons. The adult characters include stereotypical figures such as the wise drunkard and fake beggars and
healers, but the children give the film a great freshness and spontaneity. Much of
the film’s focus is on the games, affections and rivalries of the two children, Bila
and Nopoko, and their affection for Sana, an old woman excluded from the
village as a witch. When Nopoko falls ill, it is Sana who fetches from the healer,
Taryam, the herbs needed to cure the little girl. Back home Sana dies in her burntout hut and Bila fulfils his earlier promise to build her a new home by arranging
her burial. Stylistically, the long-held landscape shots and sparse dialogue of the
film closely echo Yam daabo. So does its tone of optimism, its acceptance of the
movement from one generation to the next and its confidence in the young.
In Tilaï (which means the ‘law’) the style is even more abstract, with the
setting comprising an Africa lacking any geographical or regional specificity
and the action rooted in no particular African cultural tradition (though the
language, as in the previous two films, is More). Most critics, both African and
Western, have experienced it as a tragedy in the Greek sense, dealing with universal human values and laws. Certainly the law is absolute here and the tale
has strong Oedipal overtones. Stylistically it can be seen as a development of
the audio-visual procedures of the previous two works, but above all it reveals
a heightened mastery of filmic structure and dramatic expression. Though
music (by Abdullah Ibrahim) is used extensively, especially to accompany solitary figures in a desert landscape, the warm humanity of the earlier works is
totally absent. The image is pared down, reducing to a minimum traditional
greetings and forms of address and excluding any of the modern ‘clutter’ (gerry
cans, plastic bowls, and so on) of a real African village. Nothing is allowed to
take away from the terrible action that unfolds when Saga returns to his village
after an absence of two years to find that his father has married his bride-to-be,
Nogma, who still loves him. In the eyes of all, as his father’s second wife,
Nogma is now his mother, so when they make love they are committing incest.
When they are discovered, it is Kougri, Saga’s brother, who is chosen by lot to
kill him. Instead he helps Saga escape with a promise never to return. But when
he learns that his mother is ill, Saga returns. Kougri, now himself banished from
the village for disobedience, kills him. No-one emerges unscathed from the the
application of a rigid law to the lives of fallible human beings.
Though Ouedraogo continued to be a prolific filmmaker throughout the
1990s, with works adopting a variety of more realistic styles (which have
already been discussed in Chapter 6), Tilaï, which won the top prize at
FESPACO in 1989, marks the climax of his career in terms of critical acclaim.
His one return to the pre-colonial past, The Anger of the Gods/La Colère des
dieux (2003), was originally planned as a massive epic, but was eventually
realised with very limited resources and was markedly less successful.
In Mali, Souleymane Cisse’s Yeelen (1987) (the title meaning ‘brightness’)
marks a clear break with the realist style of the director’s earlier films (discussed
in Chapter 6). The project, which illustrates perfectly the new ambitions of
African filmmakers, was much interrupted by financial difficulties and the
death of the initial lead actor, Ismail Sarr (which led to the doubling of the
hostile patriarchal figure into Bafing and his brother Soma). It is in essence
a simple timeless narrative, reconstituting/reinterpreting pagan Bambara tradition (though Cisse himself is a Muslim). It traces the journeys of the young
Nianankoro, first with his mother and then alone, through sin (the seduction
of a young Peul woman which leads to the birth of his son) to a ritual purification by his true mentor, his blind uncle, Soma’s identical twin. The film’s
climax comes with the final confrontation between Nianankoro’s newly
acquired powers and the misused Komo magic of his father. Both die in the
battle, but Nianankoro’s son clearly represents the future hope of the community. The film ends, as it had begun, with images of childhood. In contrast to
Tilaï, Yeelen is deeply rooted in specific African traditions, and for Cisse, the
rediscovery of Bambara tradition was ‘an extraordinary lesson’: ‘It was the discovery of a new thing that I knew existed but which I had not experienced in
real life. And discovering the ritual scenes was like taking part in the activities;
it was like an initiation for me.’10 This sense of discovery is very apparent in the
film, which is full of dazzling imagery in its scenes of ritual and magic. Yet to
see the film simply as an exotic fairytale is to misread it. As Suzanne H. MacRae
notes in her informative analysis of the film, ‘African audiences recognise
serious contemporary issues in the narrative and perceive the direct relationship of the film to their own social and political problems’.11 This view is
backed up by Manthia Diawara, who argues that such a return to the African
past ‘does not therefore mean a subordination to tradition for the director who
uses oral literature. It is a questioning of tradition, a creative process which
enables him to make contemporary choices while resting on the shoulders of
tradition’.12 With its multilayered narrative texture, Yeelen is the perfect filmic
recreation of the riches of African oral tradition and proved enormously successful with both African and international audiences.
In Tunisia two films of the early 1980s about emigration show – though in
very different ways – a similar shift away from everyday reality and towards a
sort of formal abstraction. The most sophisticated and universally relevant
parable about emigration, exile, borders, rules and bureaucracy is Crossing
Over/Traversées (1982) by Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud (born 1947), where
two passengers are trapped on a cross-channel ferry. The film begins on
31 December 1980 and plots the parallel fates of two refugees, a working-class
Polish dissident and an Arab middle-class intellectual, both trapped on the same
ferry. Because they both lack the necessary passport documents – a new year
begins at midnight – neither the British nor the Belgian authorities will allow
them ashore. Separated by language, class and culture, they are unable to take
a common stand, and each goes a separate way, the Pole towards the suicidal
killing of a policeman, the Arab towards an inner world, strengthened by a
casual sexual encounter. A settled life in Western Europe is never a possibility
in this Kafkaesque tale, which moves with total narrative logic from an almost
documentary style of realism (with details of precise time and place noted on
screen) to a world of myth and imagination. Ben Mahmoud went on to make
two further features but much of his later output has taken the form of video
documentaries, many of them striking pieces of historical research.
Taïeb Louhichi (born 1948) made The Shadow of the Earth/L’Ombre de la
terre (1982), another exemplary tale. It tells of an isolated rural family community – patriarchal father with his sons and nephews and their families –
whose life is slowly torn apart by natural forces and the impact of the modern
world. As natural disasters increase pressure on the group, the young men leave
for exile or are conscripted. The film is an elegy for the passing of a traditional
way of life, but the emigration of the young is seen to offer no solution and the
film ends with the frozen image of the coffin in which the body of young man
who has chosen emigration is returned to his family. Despite the realism of the
detail, the setting is abstract: the location is never made explicit, the ‘border’
leads to an unnamed country, the port at the end could be anywhere in the
Maghreb. The Shadow of the Earth is a fable with universal application.
Even more distinctive are the worlds conjured up by the multi-talented Nacer
Khemir (born 1948), who is sculptor, designer, actor, performing storyteller and
author of a dozen children’s books, as well as video and filmmaker. Both his
features explore the lost domain of a legendary Andalusia, the Arab empire that
stretched from Damascus to Grenada. The Drifters/Les Baliseurs du désert
(1984) begins with a young teacher arriving in the remote, ancient village to
which he has been sent. All the young men of the village are cursed to drift
endlessly, ‘marking out’ the desert, just as an old man digs endlessly for buried
treasure. This is a world of strange children’s games (they are making a mirror
garden), enigmatic old people, a mysterious fifteen-year-old girl. When the villages set out on a three-day pilgrimage, the young teacher is entrusted with
handing over to the drifters a book whose secrets will free them from the curse.
Instead he is led off into the desert by the woman whose image appears in the
ancient volume. The focus now shifts to a second storyline, that of a whiteuniformed police officer who arrives to investigate the teacher’s disappearance
and to discover the truth about a mysterious boat, supposedly belonging to
Sindbad, found outside the village. When the policeman disappears, walking
back to civilisation in the dark, the film turns to the young boy who organised
the children’s games and who now decides to travel to Cordova. As a new story
is about to begin, the ‘markers of the desert’ are heard passing on their endless
march and the credits roll. In The Drifters, loosely linked stories succeed each
other before being erased rather than resolved.
Khemir’s second film, The Dove’s Lost Necklace/Le Collier perdu de la
colombe (1990), is a homage to the golden age of Andalusian culture. Again
there are two stories, but this time they run alongside each other, sometimes
interweaving, sometimes going in their own directions. Hassan, the trainee calligrapher, is seeking the meaning of love by collecting as many of the sixty Arab
terms for love as he can. His dream, triggered by a book illustration, is of the
Princess of Samarkand. Zine, still just a boy, serves as messenger and gobetween for young lovers. His longing is for the return of his father (though his
mother asserts he was a djinn who claimed her when she was sleeping on the
roof terrace). The opening sequences depict an idyllic tranquillity, an ordered
world of learning and calligraphy, where everyone is safe. It is filled with the
elements of fairy tales and dreams: a monkey said to be a prince who has been
bewitched, a poet driven mad by love, an old man who sets out on a pilgrimage to Mecca, a vision of the mosque at Cordova, a prince who dies when the
last letter is stitched onto his shroud. Hassan meets a mysterious horseman,
Aziz, who is, it seems, the Princess disguised as a man, and Zine meets his father
(or perhaps this is a dream). As Hassan sets out on his quest, the ordered world
collapses, as the beggars invade and burn the city. Hassan is reunited with Aziz
and they get a precious copy of the book, The Dove’s Necklace, but the threatened violence of the beggars leads them to jump off a cliff. Aziz vanishes, the
book is lost and Hassan returns alone to the devastated city.
Khemir’s vision is unique in African cinema. His imagined world has a total
coherence, with certain constantly recurring themes and characters – a mixture
of dream and reality, a beautiful and mysterious virgin, small boys, the lost
grandeur of Andalusia, tales of journeys, treasure, magic and, always, the
mysterious power of books and the written word. This world is created through
precise camerawork, sumptuous colour imagery, a multitude of expressive faces
and exquisite costumes. Khemir’s narratives too are unique. Just as the desert
shifts in the wind, constantly uncovering and obliterating, so Khemir’s stories
start up but peter out. His characters hold stage for a while and then vanish in
some unexplained way from the narrative.
One of the few filmmakers to develop a truly distinctive style under the state
system in Algeria (and to continue to work in Algeria after its collapse) is the
former actor, Mohamed Chouikh (born 1943). In a remarkable trio of films –
The Citadel/La Citadelle (1988), Youssef – The Legend of the Seventh
Sleeper/Youcef, la légende du Septième Dormant (1993) and The Desert
Ark/L’Arche du désert (1997) – Chouikh turns his back on realism to explore
the possibilities of parable and allegory. In this way, as Denise Brahimi notes,
‘he constructs revealing situations and invents images with a strong symbolic
charge’.13 In The Citadel, which was released at the height of the disorders in
Algeria, the autocratic power of the old men of the village is depicted as akin
to the stultifying impact of thirty years of FLN rule.14 Significantly, the film –
like the contemporary 1980s Tunisian films noted above – is not precisely
located in time and space: this is a fable about Algeria, not a social study. The
action takes place in a stultifying village somewhere in the mountains. Poverty
and superstition are everywhere, but this is a divided society: the self-indulgent
world of the village elders contrasting with the sufferings of the women held in
polygamous marriages. Kaddour, an isolated figure and a dreamer, is obsessed
with the shoemaker’s flirtatious wife and is cruelly punished for causing what
his father sees as trouble. Though most of the film is shaped as a farce, complete with comic beggars and scenes of women outwitting their husbands, the
ending is riveting. Kaddour is told he is to be married, but when the ‘bride’ is
unveiled, she is a tailor’s dummy. Jeered at and humiliated, Kaddour has no
option but to throw himself to his death from a cliff top. The film ends with the
frozen image of a little girl crying ‘Let me free!’.
The full title of Youssef refers to the Arab legend of seven warriors who slept
for three centuries and woke to find themselves in a very different world. The
notion is used ironically here in the film, as Youssef, an amnesiac who has spent
thirty years in hospital after being wounded in the war of liberation, escapes to
find a country he assumes is still colonised. Confronted with the truth, he
cannot accept that the oppression, suffering, poverty, injustice and humiliation
he has found everywhere are the characteristics of the independent Algeria he
and his comrades fought for. As is so often the case with parables, in Youssef
the madness lies in the society, not in the apparent madman. The Desert Ark is
a further parable, this time about the meaninglessness of violence between two
communities, triggered, as in Romeo and Juliet, by the innocent love of two
young people. The film is set not in contemporary Algeria but in a timeless
Saharan village,where a boat is mysteriously stranded in the dunes. Here the
observer (and judge) is not a holy fool but a small boy who sets off, at the end,
to find a land where children are not slaughtered senselessly. Chouikh’s work,
with its mixture of tenderness and grotesquery, tragedy and farce, is a powerful answer to mainstream Algerian cinema’s crippling lack of originality of form
and conformity of message.
The 1990s and 2000s
The new decade saw a continued increase in film production both north and
south of the Sahara. In the Maghreb comparatively few of the new filmmakers
followed the trends towards abstraction which we have identified in the 1980s
work of Ben Mahmoud and Chouikh. But there are a number of examples in
Tunisian cinema of films – whether depicting urban or rural subjects – that are
not precisely located in time or place, but instead allude to an ill-defined epoch
viewed or remembered with nostalgia. The prime example of this approach in
Tunisia is Ferid Boughedir’s Halfaouine/Halfaouine, l’enfant des terrasses
(1990). Boughedir (born 1944) is the complete cinéaste: feature filmmaker,
documentarist, academic, film historian and critic. His first solo feature follows
Nouri Bouzid’s initiative of introducing an autobiographical tone into Tunisian
cinema, but Boughedir lacks Bouzid’s concern to create a ‘new realism’. Here
there is neither precise historical reconstruction nor the depiction of contemporary issues. Rather the film’s aim is to create a timeless, dreamlike world of childhood and the subsequent acquisition of the experience that allows it to be left
behind for ever. The hero Noura is depicted at just that point where his small
stature allows his unsuspecting mother to continue to take him to the women’s
baths (or hammam), while he is in fact – like his contemporaries – developing a
growing obsession with women’s bodies. Expelled from the hammam, Noura
recreates it at home with a servant girl little older than himself. The result is her
ejection from the household and his freedom to roam the rooftops of the
medina. The whole world of adolescence – another world par excellence – is sensitively captured in perfect detail and with immense humour and joie de vivre.
The film proved to be Tunisian cinema’s biggest box-office hit at home and its
most successful export to the overseas market. Boughedir’s only other feature,
One Summer at La Goulette/Un été à La Goulette (1995), is a study of three
families – one Muslim, one Catholic and one Jewish – living in harmony in a
suburb of Tunis before the Six Day War. Though less successful with audiences,
it was a deeply felt plea for tolerance which contains the warmth, humanity and
humour so characteristic of all Boughedir’s work.
Another strikingly original film set in the timeless world of the Tunis medina
is The Sultan of the Medina/Soltane el Medina! (1992), directed by Moncef
Dhouib (born 1952), who had worked in street theatre and as a theatre director, and was already known for his innovative short films.15 Nothing could
be further from Boughedir than the dark claustrophobic world conjured up
by Dhouib’s fable. The central characters are a young virgin Ramla, locked up
by her future in-laws, and her only friend, Fraj, a holy fool who can move freely
in the medina – even entering the women’s quarters – but only naked like a
child, to be used by women seeking cures and spells. The couple’s innocence is
set against the cruel world around them, which is characterised by lust, cruelty,
male rivalries and violence. Ramla dreams of escape, but when she succeeds
with the help of Fraj, she finds an even more violent world outside, where her
future husband abandons her to be raped and destroyed by his men. Dhouib’s
bleak world, static and cut off from modernity, is full of mysteries and enigmas
and constitutes a unique vision of Tunis and its past.
Another filmmaker who plays with time to get at an essential truth about
Maghrebian life – in this case in Morocco – is Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi,
whose early realist films of the 1980s have been discussed in Chapter 6.
Looking for My Wife’s Husband/A la recherche du mari de ma femme (1993)
is in many ways a fresh departure, being a hilarious comedy which became the
biggest box-office success in Moroccan film history. The film’s plot concerns the
misfortunes of a polygamous middle-aged husband, Haj Ben Moussa, who
repudiates his young third wife for the third time and then discovers, when he
wants reconciliation, that Islamic law demands that she should have had a (consummated) marriage to someone else in the meantime. The husband’s attempts
to resolve this dilemma create much of the comedy, which ends in disaster, when
the new husband disappears back to Belgium before his planned divorce can be
arranged. The narrative is perfectly linear and the gags beautifully timed, but
the handling of time and space is totally unconventional. The film is set in a
single city, Fez, but the time-scale is double: the scenes in the Haj’s house and
the old city (the medina) are situated in the 1970s, while the exteriors depict
the contemporary Fez of the early 1990s when the film was shot.16 This use of
what Tazi calls ‘atemporality’ captures perfectly an aspect of any major
Moroccan city obvious to every tourist: the contrast between the medina, with
its total lack of modern features (cars, street furniture, department stores), and
the bustling newly-built streets that surround it. The stylistic device allows Tazi
to move away from the social realism of his earlier films and yet still to offer a
historically based critique of contemporary society which underlines the
co-existence of tradition and modernity in African culture.
Earlier, in 1991, there had been an attempt to revive the Moroccan experimental impulse of the 1970s with two 16mm films: The Waiting Room/La Salle
d’attente – ‘a patient relives in disorder the key moments of his life’ – by
Noureddine Gounajjar (born 1946), and Ymer or the Flowering Thistles/Ymer
ou les chardons florifères – ‘a series of situations where it is difficult to know what
people do or say’ – by Tijani Chrigui (born 1949). However, neither film seems
to have had much, if any, impact, and neither director made a second feature.17
By contrast, the end of the decade saw the debut of Daoud Aoulad Syad
(born 1953), who has a wide range of interests and accomplishments, being an
academic (with a doctorate in physics and a professorship at the University of
Rabat), a still photographer (with three books of photographs published),
a graduate of FEMIS in Paris, an occasional actor and an award-winning documentary filmmaker). His film work has been made in collaboration with the
veteran filmmaker and professional film editor Ahmed Bouanani (author of
Mirage in 1979), who edited his three shorts and scripted both his features.
Aoulad Syad is one of the few Maghrebian filmmakers not to claim a screenwriting credit, but Bye Bye Souirty/Adieu forain (1998) and The Wind
Horse/Le Cheval de vent (2001) reveal a unified vision. The first tells the story
of a travelling showman whose show includes a young transvestite dancer and
who is accompanied by his estranged son; the second traces the chance
encounter of two men – one old, one young – who go in search of their past
(the grave of his second wife in one case, the mother he had never known in the
other). Both films are muted road movies that go nowhere, dealing with characters who never quite come together and full of encounters that lead to
nothing. The past – from which the characters are mostly fleeing – weighs down
on them and there is no sense of a future opening up. Both films are slow paced,
even and meditative. Everything is underplayed, since Aoulad Syad never
pushes his material to make big dramatic scenes or confrontations. The films
are full of silences, and words are seldom tools of communication. For
Mohamed Bakrim, the parallel is Samuel Beckett: ‘As in Beckett’s theatre,
talking signifies being outside of one’s self: he who possesses nothing, who is
hidden from himself, has to speak’.18 With inevitably inconclusive endings,
both films reveal a longing for a lost past, show wasted lives, misfortunes which
are undeserved. The coherence of this hermetic, nostalgic world and the sense
of an authorial presence controlling it recalls – in the sureness of touch, though
not at all in the tone – the Tunisian medina films of the early 1990s.
South of the Sahara too we find a profusion of exemplary tales in the 1990s.
In Mali Cheickh Oumar Sissoko turned away from the basically realistic
approach of his first two features (discussed in Chapter 6) with Guimba The
Tyrant/Guimba, un tyran, une époque (1995). Already, in Finzan, Sissoko had
drawn on the popular Malian koteba theatrical tradition in the portrayal of
Bala, the village idiot. Now in Guimba he moved further in the use of African
oral traditions to shape the whole film – creating a narrative full of abrupt shifts
in time and place and unexpected digressions – the shift in style typified by the
appearance of a griot at the beginning and end of the film, introducing the tale
and commenting on its aftermath. The inset story, which focuses squarely on
tyranny and the need to oppose it, has obvious contemporary relevance, as
many commentators have noticed, to the overthrow of the Malian dictator
Moussa Touré in 1991. But the film is shaped as a fable mixing elements of
farce and the supernatural and with constant shifts in mood and direction.
It chronicles the rule of Guimba and his dwarf son Jangine, putting emphasis
on their brutality, on the constant praise-singing of their eloquent but twofaced personal griot, and also on their ludicrous sexual desires: Jangine rejects
the beautiful Kani, to whom he was betrothed as a child, in favour of her more
than amply proportioned mother, Meya. The exile of Meya’s upright husband
by Guimba, who coverts Kani for himself, triggers the ruler’s eventual downfall, chronicled in an often confusing sequence of confrontations played out in
splendidly evocative costumes within the visually impressive setting of Djenné,
one of Mali’s ancient Saharan trading centres. As Sissoko has rightly said,
Guimba ‘opens the door to audiences for understanding our history through
our cinema. Obviously, some aspects will seem odd or not readily comprehensible, but the door to dreaming and discovery is open to those who wish to
enter it’.19
In Genesis/La Genèse (1999) Sissoko applied the same African oral narrative
procedures to a story of universal dimensions: the fratricidal relations between
Jacob, Esau and Hamor as related in chapters 23 to 37 of Genesis. Though the
film was scripted by a Frenchman, Jean-Louis Sagot Duvauroux, the focus is
very much on aspects of the story relative to ethnic strife in contemporary
Africa. Approaches to the rival use of limited land resources are incorporated
in the three lead figures, all played by key star African performers: the singer
Salif Keïta (as Esau, the leader of the hunters) and the actors Sotigui Kouyaté
(as Jacob, the head of the nomadic pastoralists) and Balla Moussa Keïta (as
Hamor, whose people live a settled agricultural life). The film’s narrative itself
constantly digresses into other related stories (such as the circumstances of the
father Isaac’s marriage and the son Judah’s seduction by Tamar) as the biblical
story is reshaped and its elements are rearranged, But as brother turns against
brother and cousin against cousin, the key theme that emerges is the need for
reconciliation, here enacted between Jabob and Harmor in the totally African
context of a tribal discussion (in the impressive Dogon structure of a ‘toguna’
or meeting place), enlivened by vigorous re-enactments of key contradictory
elements of the biblical story. While the film as a whole benefits enormously
from the complex visualisation incorporating both the striking setting of
Mount Hombori Tondo and Kandioura Coulibaly’s costume designs,20 it also
has a complex verbal pattern in Bambara (to which the subtitles cannot, it
seems, do full justice), reflecting Sissoko’s concern with the African oral traditions which have inspired him. As Olivier Barlet notes, the film’s message is ‘rich
and complex, in political, human and spiritual terms’.21
Sissoko, who followed these two striking oral narratives with Battù (2000),
starring the American actor Dany Glover, has always been politically active,
and with the change of government in Mali in 2002, he became Minister of
Culture. His film work throughout his career, despite its stylistic diversity, is
consistently committed to addressing social and political issues concerning the
current state and future progress of Mali, and indeed of Africa as a whole.
Also in 1990s Mali, Adama Drabo (born 1948) made his debut with Fire!/Ta
dona (1991), the tale of a young idealist, Sidy, who is both a modernist, attempting to explain the reasons for the new ban on traditional bush-burning to villagers, and a traditionalist searching for fundamental elements of Bambara
culture. The overall narrative has the same expansiveness as Sissoko’s work,
embracing inventive and engaging children, elements of magic and very contemporary glimpses of overwhelming corruption. Drabo’s approach has aptly
been characterised by Jonathan Haynes as ‘myriad-mindedness’: ‘There is a staggering breadth of material in this movie, as if Drabo were trying to define the
parameters of the Malian imagination, getting everything into one film’.22
At the beginning of Drabo’s second film, Skirt Power/Taafe fanga (1997),
a griot turns off the television images of a Hollywood musical and, provoked
by a woman’s aggressive entry into the gathering, begins a story about women
in a Dogon village, who reverse the power relations with their menfolk after
one of their number has seized the traditional mask of power. Like Drabo’s first
film, it uses the patterns of oral narrative, shifting constantly between its
various individual stories, mixing legend and immediacy and, of course,
drawing huge amounts of humour (particularly for an African audience) from
the depiction of men reduced to wearing skirts and coping ineptly with basic
women’s tasks, while women sit smoking and drinking in the shade of the men’s
palaver tree. At the end of the film, men are restored to their customary position of power, but not before Drabo has praised the role, wisdom and importance of women, though he has not, as Valérie Thiers-Thiam has noted, given
them the role of narrator, who remains, as usual, a male griot.23 Drabo has said
that he is not interested in making films just for aesthetic effect. Given the good
fortune of being allowed to make a film, he has to ‘encourage people to think,
to encourage people to ask themselves questions, to surpass themselves, and
thus participate in the effort to reconstruct our countries’.24
In Senegal three newcomers, all born in the 1950s and trained in Paris, made
their mark with their first features. Mansour Sora Wade (born 1952) made The
Price of Forgiveness/Ndeysaan (2001), after completing ten very varied short
films, both documentary and fiction, over a period of twenty years. The film is
a complex narrative, related by a griot and using oral storytelling techniques,
but it is also one of the rare African films (apart from those of Ousmane
Sembene) to be based on a French-language novel (in this case by Mbissane
Ngom). On one level the film is the story of a poor fishing village’s struggle for
survival, but it also draws on the supernatural, concern for the ancestors’ continued presence, animal symbolism, folk ritual and, at one moment, simple animation. It is also a study of generational change, showing the young rebelling
against – but still being in many ways dominated by – inherited ancestral roles:
hunter, fisherman or griot. The Price of Forgiveness’s visual style, backed up by
a complex musical score, is highly composed, sometimes in static long-shot,
sometimes in big facial close-up. But the visual impact is also shaped by the fact
that much of it is shot in mist or half-darkness, with very toned down colours
and clothing. The film’s ambiguity is enhanced by the fact that there is no forgiveness: the protagonist cannot live with his own weakness, which has driven
him to murder, and the sea is pitiless.
Joseph Gaye Ramaka (born 1952) made a number of shorts and even a
feature-length documentary Nitt . . . Ndoxx! (1988), as well as working extensively in production and distribution, before directing his sole feature, Karmen
Geï (2001), based loosely on the Prosper Mérimé story that inspired Bizet. The
film, with its nude lesbian love scene, is deliberately provocative and inevitably
provoked a censorship debate in Senegal. Its settings – the Gorée island slave
prison in which it opens, the lighthouse which forms the smugglers’ base and
the ever-present sea – are key elements in its visual style. But Gaye Ramaka’s
desire to universalise the story is typified by the musical accompaniment he has
chosen – a modern jazz score by David Murray, interspersed with vigorous performances by noted Senegalese singers, drummers and dancers – and a script
that mixes passages of conventional French dialogue with lively Wolof chants
and debates spiced with traditional maxims. This Carmen is bisexual, and the
opening dance, in which she seduces the prison warden Angélique, is a tour de
force of energy and provocation, followed almost immediately by an equally
stunning performance in which she breaks up Corporal Lamine’s wedding and
then seduces him. She drives Angélique to suicide, by rejecting her love as too
sad, and Angélique’s requiem mass, celebrated by hundreds, is the film’s turning
point, the first moment at which Karmen is silent and isolated. Thereafter
Karmen moves from man to man, but the sense of joy and provocation is lost,
as she becomes increasingly aware of her own impending death. When Lamine
kills her, her ending could not be farther from that of Angélique, as she is carried
to her grave, alone and wrapped anonymously in a carpet, by her sole true
friend. While maintaining this single trajectory from lust to lonely death, Gaye
Ramaka indulges in constant shifts of mood, time and place, creating an exemplary tale of passion, desire and death.
Moussa Sene Absa (born 1958) is a man of many talents: painter, writer and
musician, as well as filmmaker. In the years following his debut in 1988, he produced a startling array of films: fictions varying from twenty minutes to full
feature length – in 16mm and 35mm format as well as video – and documentaries on subjects ranging from bus drivers and farmers to Islamic sects and the
singer Aminata Fall. His first 16mm fictional feature, Ken Bugul (1991), seems
to have attracted little attention, perhaps because it was made at a time when
French funding schemes were making possible the switch throughout SubSaharan Africa to 35mm filming. Sene Absa was a pioneer of the video feature
film with Twist Again/Ça twiste à Poponguine (1993), a lively if nostalgic look
back at the lure of foreign music (French pop and American rhythm and blues)
and at adolescent rivalries in a 1960s Senegalese fishing village. Equally impressive is his one-hour video And So Angels Die/Ainsi meurent les anges (2001), a
highly personal film which tells with great fluidity the familiar tale of an
uprooted intellectual, here the poet Mory (played by Sene Absa himself), who
is unable to find roots or success in either Europe or Africa. The angels of the
title are the hopes and dreams of love and innocence which all of us carry within
us, to which Sene Absa’s poetic voice-over constantly returns. The film mixes
black-and-white images of childhood and adolescence with colour sequences of
the present in Paris and Senegal. The logic of the moves between past and
present is less one of narrative necessity than of a response to the inner turmoil
of Mory’s life, and the film illustrates perfectly Sene Absa’s contention that there
is no linearity in African narrative: ‘Everything is in concentric circles, it’s
always a spiral, a story is a spiral. Not something that has a beginning and an
end, because the beginning is the end and the end is at the beginning.’25
The same structural principles apply in the film on which Sene Absa’s international reputation largely rests, his first 35mm feature, Tableau Ferraille
(1996) – the title is the name of the district of Dakar where Sene Absa was born
and has connotations of a ‘scrap heap’. Early scenes in the film show Daam and
his first wife Gagnesiri making a forlorn exit from Dakar and pausing at the
cemetery. We constantly return to this scene throughout the film, while in
between the life of the couple is shown in fragmented and often disjointed flashbacks. Daam’s success as a politician grows, and since Gagnesiri is sterile, he
takes a second wife, the Western-educated Kiné. But as his domestic life falls
apart, his rise to Minister is followed by an abrupt and total fall. Daam’s transparent honesty and dogged commitment contrasts sharply with the approach
of his friend and eventual rival, the businessman Président, whose rise parallels
his fall and whose speed of manoeuvre is symbolised by his ever-changing headgear: French beret, baseball cap, cowboy’s stetson and, finally, traditional
African headdress. In the film’s final return to the cemetery, while Daam is
alone, asleep on a bench, Gagnesiri leaves him and sails off into the unknown
from the beach where the film began. All the figures can be seen as in some way
symbolic of the fate of Senegal after thirty-five years of independence: the
(sterile) traditional and the (treacherous) modern wives, the clash of honesty
and corruption, the impotence of labour in the face of African capitalism. Sene
Absa has an overt political message: ‘Africa wake up! They’re asking you to go
too quickly . . . Africa has got onto a train without knowing where it’s going.
I’d rather we waited for another train, where we could find our place knowing
where the train is going’.26 But the real attraction of the film lies in the fluency
of Sene Absa’s camerawork – especially in the exteriors – and the brilliant use
of colour and costume. Key too is the use of music, especially the songs of the
blue-clad band of fishermen-singers, the faye ball (led by the director himself),
which warn Tableau Ferraille of the dangers throughout the film.
Sene Absa’s second feature, again with largely French dialogue, is Madame
Brouette (2002) which adapts the first film’s structural pattern to what is basically a whodunit. The film opens with a striking sequence showing a man in
drag with white make-up and a red dress (Naago) shot dead when he returns
home (it turns out to be the day of a cross-dressing carnival). The rest of the
film is a more or less chronological, but certainly non-linear, account of events
leading up to the killing, beginning with his meeting with the woman accused
of his murder. This is the plucky market seller Mati who calls herself Madame
Brouette (meaning ‘pushcart woman’). The account of her stormy relationship
with the corrupt policeman Naago is paralleled by the innocent love between
her own little daughter and the boy next door, and both narrative threads are
constantly interrupted by returns to the police investigation. There is also a
powerful musical score which, together with the songs of a group of griots continually intervening to comment on the action, make the film almost a musical.
At the film’s ending, the truth about the shooting is genuinely unexpected. The
versatile career of Moussa Sene Absa, who was born just two years before independence, provides the perfect introduction to the range of approaches which
become so striking among the generation born after the end of colonial rule.
1. Olivier Barlet, ‘Cinémas d’Afrique noire: Le Nouveau malentendu’, Paris:
Cinémathèque 14, 1998, p. 107.
2. Manthia Diawara, African Cinema: Politics and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1992), p. 160.
3. Stuart Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representations’, Framework 36,
1989, p. 70.
4. Richard Porton, ‘Mambety’s Hyenas: Between Anti-Colonialism and the Critique
of Modernity’, in Iris 18, University of Iowa, 1995, p. 97.
5. Gaston Kabore, cited in Françoise Pfaff, 25 Black African filmmakers (New York:
Greenwood Press, 1988), p. 177.
6. Hédi Khelil, Résistances et utopies: Essais sur le cinéma arabe et africain (Tunis:
Édition Sahar, 1994), p. 91.
7. Olivier Barlet, African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze (London and New York:
Zed Books, 2000), p. 66.
8. Hall, ‘Cultural Identity’, p. 70.
9. Idrissa Ouedraogo, interview in Amna Guellali (ed.), Idrissa Ouedraogo (Tunis:
ATPCC/Cinécrits 15, 1998), p. 49.
10. Souleyman Cisse, in Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Questioning African Cinema:
Conversations with Filmmakers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
2002), p. 22.
11. Suzanne H. MacRae, ‘Yeelen: A Political Fable of the Komo Blacksmiths/Sorcerers’,
in Kenneth W Harrow (ed.), African Cinema: Postcolonial and Feminist Readings
(Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, 1999), p. 127.
12. Diawara, African Cinema, p. 39.
13. Denise Brahimi, ‘Images, symbols et paraboles dans le cinéma de Mohamed
Choikh’, in Michel Serceau (ed.), Cinémas du Maghreb (Paris: Corlet/Télérama/
CinémAction 111, 2004), p. 154.
14. Michel Chouikh, in CamilleTaboulay, Le Cinéma métaphorique de Mohamed
Chouikh (Paris: K Films Editions, 1997), p. 42.
15. See Andrea Flores Khalil, ‘Images that Come Out at Night: A Film Trilogy by
Moncef Dhouib’, in Ida Kummer (ed.), Cinéma Maghrébin, special issue of Celaan
1: 1–2, 2002, pp. 71–80.
16. Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi, in Kevin Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca: M. A. Tazi and
the Adventure of Moroccan Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004),
p. 32.
17. Quotations from the films’ publicity material cited in Les Cinémas d’Afrique:
Dictionnaire (Paris: ATM/Karthala, 2000).
18. Mohamed Bakrim, ‘Adieu forain de Daouad Aoulad Syad, un film beckettien’, in
Michel Serceau (ed.), Cinémas du Maghreb (Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinemAction
111, 2004), p. 185.
19. Cheikh Oumar Sissoko, interview, in Ukadike, Questioning African Cinema,
p. 194.
20. See Debra Boyd-Buggs, ‘Les Costumes de Kandioura Coulibaly pour La Genèse’,
in Samuel Lelièvre (ed.), Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert? (Paris:
Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 106, 2003).
21. Olivier Barlet, ‘La Genèse’, Africultures 18 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999), p. 69.
22. Jonathan Haynes, ‘Returning to the African Village’, Jump Cut 40, Berkeley, 1996,
p. 65.
23. Valérie Thiers-Thiam, À chacun son griot (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004), p. 137.
24. Adama Drabo, interview in Melissa Thackway, Africa Shoots Back: Alternative
Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone African Film (London: James Currey,
2003), p. 184.
25. Moussa Sene Absa, interview in P. -G. Despierre (ed.), Le Griot, le psychanalyste et
le cinéma africain (Paris: Grappaf/L’Harmattan, 2004), p. 130.
26. Moussa Sene Absa, interview in www.africultures, 3 September 2002.
If it’s important to know where we come from, it’s even more important
to know where we are, that is to define our place as African filmmakers
in the world. This positioning, which is in fact a taking stock, will help us
clarify our gaze at Africa . . . Taking stock of our place in the world does
not mean distancing ourselves from it. We are for the most part filmmakers on the move, in contact with other people. We are the filmmakers of
wandering, of nomadism. Like every good nomad, we need to have
a good mount in order to move forward, and our mount is the cinema.
Guilde Africaine des Réalisateurs et Producteurs1
African intellectuals live a duality which they suppress most of the time.
However, they speak French among themselves, they eat in French at the
table at home, and often, they live in France; but when they shoot a film,
they shoot it in their own language!
Moussa Sene Absa2
A New Generation
In one of his last articles on African cinema, written in 2000, Pierre Haffner
posited the existence of three waves of African filmmaking (the 1960s, the 1970s
and the 1980s–1990s).3 This present chapter argues that it is now possible to see
the outlines of a new wave or generation, the first to be comprised entirely of filmmakers who, because of their date of birth, never experienced life under colonial
rule. Filmmakers born since independence now make up about 15 per cent of the
total number of francophone African filmmakers – and a far greater proportion
of those currently active (they are responsible for almost a third of all features
made in the five years since the beginning of 2000). They have also begun to dominate African film festivals, with Ayouch and Sissako winning at FESPACO in
2001 and 2003 respectively, and Asli at the JCC in 2004. Forty filmmakers – five
of them women – have given us over fifty feature films in the years since the late
1990s. About two-thirds of these new filmmakers come from the Maghreb: one
from Algeria, thirteen from Morocco and ten from Tunisia. The rest come from
nine of the independent states south of the Sahara.
Though there is considerable continuity with the work of the slightly older
filmmakers, such as Abdoulaye Ascofaré, Daoud Aoulad Syad and Moussa
Sene Absa, who preceded them in the 1990s, the new younger filmmakers do
have enough specifically in common to constitute a distinctive group, with
largely shared backgrounds and particular modes of approach to filmmaking.
The characteristic profile for the group is, firstly, birth in Africa, though Nadia
El Fani (born 1960), Gahité Fofana (born 1965), Nabil Ayouch (born 1969)
and Alain Gomis (born 1972) were born in Paris, of partial Tunisian, Guinean,
Moroccan and Senegalese descent respectively. Their dates of birth are mostly
in the 1960s, though some, such as Gomis and the Maghrebian directors Raja
Amari, Narjiss Nejjar and Elyes Baccar (all born in 1971), are a little younger.
Most of the group lived in France for a number of years while studying, and
some have settled there permanently. Most of them – from the oldest of the
Tunisians, Mohamed Zran (born 1959), whose first feature, Essaïda, appeared
in 1996, to the youngest arrival, Mohamed Ladjimi (born 1975), who showed
his first feature, Summer Wedding/Noce d’été, at the JCC in 2004 – made their
feature film debuts in their twenties or thirties. But a few have established their
careers elsewhere: Hakim Belabbes (born 1961) at Columbia University in
Chicago, Nawfel Saheb-Ettaba (born 1959) in Quebec, Nidhal Chatta (born
1959) in England, and Mohamed Asli (born 1957) in Italy, for example. These
‘outsiders’ tend to be the oldest of the group at the time of their first feature –
in their forties.
Virtually all are film-school trained, with no less than twenty-three of them
having studied in Paris, though again there is a group from the Belgian film
school INSAS – Jamal Belmejdoub (born 1956), Hassan Legzouli (born 1963),
François Woukoache (born 1966) and Yasmine Kassari (born 1968) – and a few
‘outsiders’: Abderrahmane Sissako (born 1961) studied in Moscow, Idrissou
Mora Kpaï (born 1967) in Munich, Asli and Ahmed Boulane (born 1956) in
Italy, and Imane Mesbahi (born 1964) at the Cairo Cinema Institute. The filmmakers as a whole comprise one of the most highly educated of such groups in
the world. Dani Kouyaté (born 1961), who followed his DEA in film at the
University of Paris VIII with further studies at the Sorbonne, set a pattern followed by most of these filmmakers. Many have additional academic qualifications acquired in Paris in subjects other than film. Ayouch also studied drama,
Gahité Fofana literature, Camille Mouyeke (born 1962) art, Omar Chraïbi
(born 1961) photography, Issa Serge Coelo (born 1967) history, Mahamet Saleh
Haroun (born 1963) journalism, and François Woukoache (born 1966) mathematics and physics. Only three filmmakers – El Fani (who worked as assistant
and production manager), Jean Odoutan (born 1965) and Mohamed Camara
(born 1959) (both actors) – seem to have learned their filmmaking by working
from the start, without formal training, within some area of the film or television industries. Having completed their film training, most of the others made
fictional or documentary short films which were shown at foreign festivals, and
a few – most notably Faouzi Bensaïdi (born 1967) and Régina Fanta Nacro
(born 1962) – achieved an international reputation with their short films.
Questions of Nationality
French dominance and the paucity of African film finance and production infrastructures have important influences on how we must regard the work of these
‘new millennium’ African directors. The first issue is that of nationality. Though,
for convenience, films are referred to here as Cameroonian or Congolese, in fact,
the ‘nationality’ of a contemporary African film often reflects little more than its
director’s place of birth. Certainly it does not necessarily reflect his or her place
of residence, particularly as, until recently, the possession of a production base
in France has been a considerable asset when applying for funding. Eight of the
group (Coelo, El Fani, Gomis, Haroun, Mora Kpaï, Mouyeke, Nacro and
Odoutan) belong to the Paris-based Guilde Africaine des Réalisateurs et
Producteurs, which exists specifically to promote the work of French-based
African-born filmmakers. Several older filmmakers – Mama Keita (Guinea),
Taïeb Louhichi (Tunisia), Raymond Rajaounarivelo (Madagascar), Jean-Marie
Teno (Cameroon) and the Swiss-based Mohamed Soudani (Algeria) – are also
members, as are directors from outside the francophone area, such as Zeka
Laplaine and Mweze Ngangura from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A number of other members of the ‘millennium’ group, such as Ayouch, Sissako,
Ladjimi and Amari, also reside in France. The sense of unity among the group is
strong. For example, Haroun had three fellow directors, Laplaine, Coelo and
Nacro, to assist him in various ways on his first two features.
The shaping influence of France is clear from the credits of all their films, such
as Haroun’s Abouna which shows the range of funding available to these Parisbased filmmakers. The film was co-produced by Cinénomad (Paris) and Goï Goï
Productions (Chad), with the participation of Fonds Sud Cinéma, the ADC-Sud,
the Fonds Européen de Développement, the Agence Intergouvernementale de la
Francophonie and Arte France Cinéma, as well as the Chadian Ministry of
Promotion and Development and Télé-Tchad, the Hubert Bals Foundation and
Cinemart-IFF in the Netherlands. The situation of living in France also makes a
significant input into the subject matter of their work. Gomis’s L’Afrance (2001),
for example, is based directly on his own immediate experiences of growing up
within the Parisian migrant community. Fofana, after a number of documentaries, played the lead in his own Immatriculation temporaire (2000), a fictionalised account of a possible return to Guinea in search of an unknown father,
which leads to disappointment and plunges the protagonist into a life of crime.
Two ‘road movies’ of 2004, made as their feature debuts by Paris-based
Moroccans, also offer young men’s reflections on growing up in France and
discovering only later the values of their fathers. In Hassan Legzouli’s Tenja the
son has to drive his father’s body for burial in a Morocco he scarcely knows,
while in The Long Journey/Le Grand voyage by Ismaïl Ferroukhi (born 1962)
a non-religious Europeanised young man drives his devout, Arab-speaking
father overland to Mecca. Similarly, after shooting his first film in his native
Benin (Barbeque Pejo, 1999), Jean Odoutan has made three studies of the
African community in France, where he lives, though all were given French government funding as ‘Benin’ films.
At first sight these filmmakers seem to constitute a typical exile group of the
kind so ably chronicled by Hamid Naficy.4 Certainly, as we shall see, many of
their films carry the marks of exile and diaspora and chronicle a return to the
filmmaker’s origins. Perhaps the most remarkable work in this respect is
Idrissou Mora Kpaï’s sixty-three-minute documentary The Queen Mother/SiGueriki (2003), which marked the filmmaker’s first return home, after ten years
of living in Germany, to the Borgu region of Northern Benin where he was born.
He had originally intended the film as a homage to his father, a local ‘wasangari’ or nobleman. But his father died before the film could be made, and
instead Mora Kpaï discovered the hitherto unknown female half of his family:
his mother, stepmother and sister. In traditional Borgu society boys were
brought up in an exclusively male environment from the age of five, and the
girls were sent away to live (often as virtual servants) with aunts or cousins. For
Mora Kpaï the film was a double discovery. Firstly, there was meeting and
talking with a mother he had never known in childhood, a woman living modestly and seemingly concerned only with traditional domestic tasks. Then there
was the surreal discovery that, as a direct descendent of the ‘wasangari’ king,
she was ‘si-gueriki’, the ceremonial head presiding over the annual ‘gaani’ festival reuniting the whole clan, before whom all – men and women alike – had to
prostrate themselves.
But these Paris-based African filmmakers have an advantage not shared by
other exiles, in that their decision to reflect cinematically on life in the countries
where they were born has intermeshed precisely with the French government’s
desire to maintain its cultural links with all its former African colonies. Their
problem is less exile than potential integration and loss of African identity. This
is what has happened to a group from which they can now hardly be distinguished, namely the dozen or so of their contemporaries who are secondgeneration immigrants, mostly of Algerian origin, resident in France. Back in the
1980s the first immigrant filmmakers, such Mehdi Charef, Abdelkrim Bahloul
and Rachid Bouchareb, commonly known as beurs (the term is derived from a
slang inversion of the letters ‘r’ and ‘b’ of the word ‘arabe’), constituted a clearly
defined group. But twenty years later they could no longer be considered as
constituting an entity apart from the rest of French cinema.5 Indeed, in 2005 one
of their number, Abdellatif Kechiche (born 1960 in Tunis), won no less than four
‘Césars’ (the French film industry’s own Oscars) – for best film, best director,
best script and most promising female newcomer – with The Scam/L’Esquive.
In the case of the Maghrebians, it is really only their funding sources that set
the two groups apart and even then the results can be contradictory and confusing, as a comparison between Nabyl Ayouch and Nadir Moknèche shows.
Moknèche was born in Paris in 1965, but he returned to Algiers at the age of
one month and was brought up there. He was, in his own words, a product of
independent Algeria, of the Algeria of Boumediene and Chadli, of Arabisation
(he learned French only at the age of nine) and of Islamisation.6 Yet he is generally considered a beur, simply because his films are funded through the normal
mechanisms of low-budget French national production and he uses the French
language, even when filming, as in Viva Laldjérie (2004), in Algiers. On the
other hand, Nabil Ayouch, born of mixed (French and Moroccan) parentage in
Paris, where he grew up and has his current production base, is usually defined
as a ‘Moroccan’ filmmaker, simply because all his features have received government funding through the aid scheme administered by the CCM in Rabat.7
Another striking example of confusions about nationality concerns the beur
filmmaker Fatima Jebli Ouazzani, whose Dutch-produced In My Father’s
House/In het Huis van mijn Vader (1997) won the top prize in 1998 at the Fifth
Moroccan National Film Festival. The director was, it is true, born in Meknès
in 1959, but she has lived in the Netherlands since the age of eleven and has
had no contact with any Moroccan film production structures. What makes her
award even more remarkable is that the film’s subject matter (female sexuality)
precludes it from ever getting a commercial release in Morocco, though it does,
however, now appear in the official listings of Moroccan films produced annually by the CCM. The film’s formal pattern of weaving together autobiography,
fiction and documentary does, however, anticipate many aspects of the work
(to be discussed in coming chapters) of Haroun and Sissako. The result, in the
case of In My Father’s House, is a complex exploration of questions of virginity, sexuality and marriage, which is fascinating but has no real connection with
how cinema has developed in Morocco.
Perhaps the most startling confusion over national identity concerns the
1998 award of the top prize (the Tanit d’or) at the JCC in Tunis to an allegedly
‘Algerian’ film, Living in Paradise/Vivre au paradis. The parents of the director, Bourlem Guerdjou (born 1965), are, it is true, of Algerian origin. But
Guerdjou himself was born in France, has French nationality and works as a
writer-director in French television. His film, a French-Belgian-Norwegian
co-production, is the adaptation of a French-language novel, co-scripted with
two French writers, and has Europeans in all the key production roles. Though
shot in Tunisia, it is set in France, in the slums of Nanterre during the early
1960s and uses largely French dialogue. Set against a background of real historical events, it tells of a migrant worker, Mokhtar, who dreams of a better life
and summons his family from Algeria. But things do not develop as he hopes.
Though his wife finds a new identity with other immigrant women and in the
liberation cause, he fails miserably to do so. This is a bleak story handled with
care and skill, convincingly recreating the period setting and tracing the characters’ progress with a clear-eyed, documentary-style attention to detail, but it
is hardly an Algerian film.
One common factor uniting virtually all filmmaking – within the beur community in France, in francophone West Africa, in contemporary Algeria, and to
an increasing extent in Tunisia – is its reliance on French government initiatives.
The French government’s current concern seems to be to sponsor ‘prestige’
African productions which can get European festival screenings, ideally at
Cannes, and a successful release in one or more Parisian art cinemas. There is
also a very conscious effort to make French film aid all-embracing. It is hardly
by chance that during the four-year existence of the funding body ADCSud
(2000–3), aid was given filmmakers in over sixty countries in Asia, Africa and
Latin America. In terms of Africa, assistance was given to at least one filmmaker
from eleven of the independent states created by the break-up of the former giant
French colonies of French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa, as well as
to Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian filmmakers. In addition, funding was given
to filmmakers from the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Cape Verde,
Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau; Egypt, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic
Republic of Congo (ex-Zaire) and Madagascar; South Africa, Namibia and
Zimbabwe. No doubt the new French funding body, the Fonds Images Afrique,
set up on 1 January 2004, will adopt a similar policy.
The Films
The paradoxical notion that the filmmaking of the first African generation born
after independence would be essentially a cinema in exile was not apparent in
the early 1990s when the first members of the age-group made their appearance. The first to achieve a breakthrough – Malek Lakhdar Hamina (born
1962) in Algeria and Imane Mesbahi in Morocco – were both in privileged situations in that their fathers were well established filmmakers in their own right.
Lakhdar Hamina’s Autumn – October in Algiers/Automne – octobre à Alger
(1992), in which the director played the lead after his return from film study in
the USA, brought together a team of very experienced Algerian technical collaborators, many of whom had worked with his father. The film offers a powerfully dramatic look at the experience of a family caught up in the riots and
demonstrations of 5 October 1988. At the age of thirty, Lakhdar Hamina was
by far the youngest director then active in the Maghreb, but though the film
was well received, he has not made a second in the fifteen or so years since its
release. Imane Mesbahi, who like Lakhdar Hamina had appeared as a child
actor in some of her father’s early films, was markedly less successful with her
debut film, made after the completion of her film studies in Cairo and the
making of a couple of short documentaries. An Immigrant’s Song/Le Chant
d’un immigré was based on a script by her father and shooting began in 1994.
But Mesbahi abandoned the project for five years, while she worked directing
téléfilms for Moroccan television. In 1999 she began shooting new sequences
and re-edited the project, but even then it was not until 2002 that the film was
eventually released in Morocco, under a new title, The Paradise of the
Poor/Paradis des pauvres.
In general, the films of the millennium generation follow, with some significant variations, one or other of the dominant tendencies outlined in the four
previous chapters. On the one hand, there has been a continuation of the kind
of realist filmmaking chronicling the problems of post-independence societies
which has been characteristic of African filmmaking since its origins and which
has been discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. Among key figures renewing the realist
impulse are filmmakers from two Sub-Saharan African countries lacking a
strong filmmaking tradition – Ivanga Imunga (born 1967) from Gabon, and
Issa Serge Coelo from Chad – together with Régina Fanta Nacro from Burkina
Faso, the Tunisian Nawfel Saheb-Ettaba and the Moroccans Nabil Ayouch,
Mohamed Asli and Yasmine Kassari.
Ivanga Imunga made his feature debut – after half-a-dozen shorts – with
Money/Dôlè (2000), the winner of the top prize (the Tanit d’or) at the JCC in
2000. Though this was the first Gabonese film for twenty-two years, there are
links with the veterans of the 1970s, in that it was co-scripted by Philippe Mory
and co-produced by Charles Mensah. As was always the case in the 1970s, the
film’s dialogue is in French. Dôlè is an engaging study which offers a vivid
picture of a group of children living largely on the streets of Libreville, the
country’s capital. Though they indulge in petty crime – stealing radio equipment, car tyres or batteries – they all have their private dreams, even performing a pagan ritual to ensure success. There is a real sense of the young actors
living out their own lives, and their street encounters have a totally convincing
immediacy (such as their meeting with a slightly crazed preacher of doom). The
gang leader Baby Lee wants to become a rap star (and his singing leads us into
and out of the film), Akson has real ambitions of succeeding as a boxer, while
Joker dreams of becoming a sea captain. The central figure, Mougler, has
deeper problems. His mother, who has been abandoned by his father, is sick and
in need of expensive medication. So Mougler conceives of a daring plan to
attack and rob the latest craze in Libreville, the new scratch-card game, Dôlè,
which promises 1 million CFA francs to its winners. Inevitably the raid goes
wrong, Baby Lee is killed and, in any case, Mougler’s mother is already dead.
But in the final scenes the film switches gears. The kiosk raid goes unpunished
by the authorities and Baby Lee turns out not to be dead after all, able to lead
them in a final rap number which continues over the credits, as they set out for
a sea trip with their friend, ‘Uncle’ Charlie.
Issa Serge Coelo’s Daresalam (2000) is one of the very few recent African
films to confront the wars that have wracked the continent since independence.
Coelo had worked as a documentary cameraman in French television and made
several short films before beginning his first feature, set in an imaginary African
country. Daresalam begins by showing the impact of heavy-handed treatment
by government troops imposing the collection of taxes and the ‘national loan’
on impoverished villagers. Forced from their homes and fleeing through a landscape of rape, torture and violence, two friends, Djimi and Koni, end up in a
training camp run by the FRAP rebels. After just two days of training, they are
in action, but soon a heavy defeat splits the FRAP ranks and separates the two
friends. A final confrontation between the two of them makes clear the divisive
contradictions of a civil war, tearing even close friends apart. The film ends with
the wounded Djimi meeting spectral figures from the past, as he hobbles
through his old village. There are no false heroics in the film and Coelo makes
very clear the ideological and resource limitations of the rebels, as well as the
confusions of the actual fighting. But his observational style, perhaps rooted in
his early work in documentary, keeps us at a distance from his characters. In
addition, Coelo is convinced that ‘cinema should ask questions rather than give
answers’,8 so his work lacks the passion which Med Hondo brought to his
1970s studies of the Polisario rebels. But Daresalam remains a sincere and
serious study of a key aspect of contemporary Africa.
Also set in a fictional African country but again confronting the tragedy of
civil war caused by atrocious ethnic rivalry is Régina Fanta Nacro’s much
praised The Night of Truth/La Nuit de la vérité (2004). In the short films which
earned her an international reputation, Nacro deftly treated serious issues with
humour and a lightness of touch, but here in her first feature the tone is unrelentingly bleak, leading to a climax of almost unwatchable horror. The director,
who co-scripted the film with Marc Gautron, has said she wanted to create a
‘Shakespearian’ drama,9 and the main focus is on two families, President
Miossoune and his wife Edna and the charismatic rebel leader Colonel and his
wife Soumari. There are even a kind of ‘court jester’ – in the form of the
ex-soldier Tomoto (an awkward figure, since he is not the familiar wise fool, but
an active embodiment of racial hatred) – and a Cassandra-like figure, Fatou,
who foresees the outcome and carries the film’s final meaning of reconciliation.
The action is compressed into a few hours as the two rival groups, summoned
by the Colonel, come together to try to create peace after ten years of civil war.
The immediate awkwardnesses of this attempt at peace-making are well captured, as each couple has to eat the other’s gastronomic speciality (caterpillars
and snakes respectively). The real underlying tensions between the two groups
of soldiers, haunted by the memory of their own dead, are also well conveyed
and, above all, the scenes featuring children injured in the war making up little
stories about their horrific mutilations are stunning. Less convincing are the
two lead characters, the Colonel and the President’s wife Edna, who are both
depicted as deeply flawed tragic individuals. From the years of war, the Colonel
is haunted by one single incident of a massacre in which he personally killed
and mutilated a child, and Edna, whose son that child was, is driven only by
thoughts of bloody revenge. While the Colonel seeks forgiveness for his crime,
Edna offers only vengeance, persuading her husband’s troops to capture him
and then slowly spit-roast him over an open fire (a fate which, the director tells
us, also befell her own uncle). The Night of Truth is a passionately sincere film,
but it is perhaps over-ambitious. The writing and directing both have an overexplicit theatricality, and the acting cannot quite reach the intensity needed to
capture these extraordinary personal stories, in which the whole horror of
ethnic hatred is intended to be encapsulated. But though in some ways a flawed
work, The Night of Truth is immensely apposite and courageous, and a
reminder that the new generation of African women directors have real ambition and are no long willing simply to chronicle women’s domestic oppression.
Nabil Ayouch’s three films to date are very varied. The first and third are
thrillers based on Hollywood models (the latter with very explicit, Western-style
sex scenes which caused censorship problems in Morocco). But his second film,
Ali Zaoua (1999), is very different: a much darker study of three Casablancan
street children that recalls both Italian neorealism and the Luis Buñuel of Los
Olvidados. Based on lengthy research, the film has a carefully devised dramatic
structure built around the efforts of the three kids to devise a worthy funeral for
the leader of their little band (the Ali Zaoua of the title). The same care has been
expended on the performances as on the structure, with the naturalness of the
orphans who play the central roles counterbalanced by the experienced actors
playing the adult roles. The whole was co-scripted with a French screenwriter,
Nathalie Saugeon, with the Arab adaptation and dialogue by the dramatist
Youssef Fadel. While showing the plight and helplessness of the children (their
sheer inability not to steal or sniff glue, for instance) and the lack of hope their
lives offer, Ayouch’s view incorporates their hopes and dreams as well as the
bleakness of their immediate surroundings, ending, like Dôlè, with a boat trip
into a hopefully better future. While in no way romanticising their plight,
Ayouch has constructed a moving dramatic tale that became the second most
popular Moroccan film ever at the box office and won the top prize (the Étalon
de Yennenga) at FESPACO in 2001.10
Another film with echoes of neorealism is Mohamed Asli’s debut feature, In
Casablanca Angels Don’t Fly/A Casablanca les anges ne volent pas (2004). This
is not surprising since the director trained (and subsequently worked) in Italy
and many of his crew are Italians. The film traces another aspect of poverty in
Casablanca: a trio of Berber waiters who are exploited and live in poverty at the
mercy of the restaurant owner. The core of the film is the tragic story of Said,
who is unable to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, but has to
watch her die on the way to hospital. Said’s story is paralleled by the comic tale
of his colleague Ismail’s obsession with a pair of shoes that cost a month or
more’s wages (there is a marvellous scene – an almost religious ritual – as he
puts them on for the first time). The third, less developed, story is that of
Ottman, a Berber horseman who rides his horse into Casablanca, only to have
it throw him and bolt (one of the film’s most spectacular scenes). All three
stories end in defeat, but Asli shows great sympathy for his protagonists’ lives
and he dreams and weaves their tales beautifully together by means of a sensitive handling of the soundtrack. The film won the top prize (the Tanit d’or) at
the JCC in 2004.
After a well received documentary about Moroccan workers in Europe,
When Men Weep/Quand les hommes pleurent (1999), Yasmine Kassari turned
her attention to the women left behind in rural Morocco in her first fictional
feature, The Sleeping Child/L’Enfant endormi (2004) (the title refers to the folk
belief that an unborn child can be ‘put to sleep’, that is, put on hold until the
husband’s return). This is a reticent film, depicting two illiterate, unassertive
women who largely submit to the situation to which they are reduced by their
husbands’ absence. Halima abandons her children and returns to her parents
after being wrongly suspected of a liaison with another man and beaten by her
in-laws. Zeinab persists, but eventually loses hope and throws away the spell
which she thinks will allow her to reawaken the child conceived on her wedding
night. Another understated study of difficult personal relations, this time in a
very confined urban space, is the Tunisian Nawfel Saheb-Ettaba’s debut feature,
The Bookstore/El kotbia (2002). This chonicles the marital difficulties of a
repressed bookseller, Tarek, and his more forceful wife, Leïla, who has ambitions as a singer. The couple are eventually reunited, but though Tarek’s
widowed mother and his much younger assistant, Jamil, are drawn to each
other, social pressures keep them apart. This is a discreetly told story of real
commitments but largely repressed emotions.
The alternative African approach, whose history has been chronicled in
Chapters 7 and 8, has found an even stronger echo among the post-millennium
filmmakers. One filmmaker who tried to open up new subject matter for
African cinema and also explore new ways of shaping a film stylistically is
Mohamed Camara who, like other filmmakers from Guinea, uses French dialogue in his films. After two shorts exploring very controversial subject matter –
mother-son incest in Denko (1992) and child suicide in Minka (1994) – Camara
confronted homosexuality head-on in the feature-length Dakan (1997). This
film begins with a deliberately provocative scene of two young men kissing passionately in a car, and it follows the lives of the two protagonists as they try,
under parental pressure, to change their lives. Manga (a role initially conceived
by Camara for himself) submits to a traditional healer (who fails to ‘cure’ him)
and begins an affair with a white girl. His friend Sory quarrels with his overbearing father (played by Camara), gets married and has a son. But the end of
the film sees the pair of them driving off together towards a very uncertain
future. Camara treats his subject in a deliberately formalised manner, using
explicitly worked-out, patterned dialogue, deliberate paralleling of scenes and
incidents, and some very carefully composed visual images. There is no space
here for instinctual response, and this stylistic choice prevents real audience
involvement in the unfolding of the characters’ lives, seen as their destiny (the
literal meaning of the title).
The filmmaker who really set the pattern for the most experimental work of
the new generation – and who has vanished from view of late – is the
Cameroonian Jean-Pierre Bekolo (born 1966), who studied as a television producer and editor at INA and was based in Paris for many years. Bekolo is the
author of two unclassifiable features – Quartier Mozart, made in 1992 when he
was just twenty-six, and Aristotle’s Plot/Le Complot d’Aristote (1996), together
with Grandmother’s Grammar/La Grammaire de grand-mère (also 1966), a
short documentary about the African filmmaker he most admires, Djibril Diop
Mambety. The pattern is set from the very opening of Quartier Mozart when
the characters introduce themselves, with their nicknames, direct to camera and
Bekolo’s voice-over commentary introduces the key element of magic: the transformation by the local witch of the schoolgirl who calls herself Neighbourhood
Chief into a man, MyGuy, so that she can enjoy the ‘best of all lives’, that of a
woman in a man’s body. The film continues in similar vein with the witch’s
adventures as a man, Panka, who can make a man’s penis disappear simply by
shaking hands with him (except, that is, for the police chief, Mad Dog, who hires
‘him’ as a watchman). The film develops as an often hilarious study of urban life
in Yaoundé, focusing particularly on its sexual problems, such as the police
chief’s difficulties with his two wives, the predicament of the shopkeeper Goodas-Dead (who has shaken hands with the witch), and the growing passion of the
police chief’s liberated daughter, Saturday, for the outsider MyGuy. There is, it
seems, a good deal of autobiography in the film (Bekolo was born in Yaoundé
and his father was a polygamous police chief).11 The whole film is shot in a disjointed style that recalls Bekolo’s earlier experience of making pop videos and
the influence of Spike Lee (particularly the handling of dialogue) and Jean-Luc
Godard (using stills and handwritten messages, a blank screen sequence and
direct-to-camera dialogue). The whole is accompanied by lots of contemporary
references (to Michael Jackson and Denzil Washington, ‘Lady Di’ and Princess
Caroline, for example) and a very lively pop music soundtrack. But the ending
is disappointingly conventional, with Neighbourhood Chief, restored to her
schoolgirl identity, concluding, after her adventures, that before she goes out
with a boy, he will have to prove he loves her and that it is the real thing.
Bekolo’s second film, Aristotle’s Plot, has the same pattern of a continual
voice-over by the director (this time in English) and a fragmented, sometimes
incoherent, storyline. This mixes talk (with plenty of swearing) with action and
parody (especially of gangster films and westerns), apparently improvised
scenes and a style full of jump cuts and unexpected transitions. Again, as in
Quartier Mozart, one of the central characters is a large policeman whose
actions and words are laughable (he is given the task of finding out how it is
that people who die in one film can be seen alive and well in the next). The
subject matter this time is cinema itself, and the film begins with two opposed
characters chained to the policeman: the Filmmaker, variously referred to as
Cinéaste (and hence ‘silly ass’), Essoumba Tourneur or ET, and the gangster
who calls himself Cinema, because he has seen 10,000 films, few of them
African because ‘African films are shit’. Cinema’s range of fake identity cards
bear the names of well-known African filmmakers – Diop Mambety, Kabore,
Lionel Ngakane, Sembene, Hondo, Cisse, Haile Gerima and Kwah Ansah – but
his own taste is for violent American movies, and the members of his gang have
all taken on the names of their heroes: Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Lee,
Nikita and so. On the soundtrack, Bekolo speculates on why he has been
chosen by the British Film Institute to direct a film for their series celebrating
100 years of cinema (along with Scorsese, Godard and Bertolucci), meditates
on Aritotle’s Poetics, quotes his grandfather (‘a filmmaker is an outlaw who
doesn’t have enough personality to be a gangster’), and asks questions of all
kinds. The action, such as it is, involves ET having Cinema’s gang evicted from
the Cinema Africa which forms their headquarters and which he renames
Heritage Cinema. In response, the gang members steal the projector and the
stock of films and improvise a cinema, the New Africa, only to find the films
they have are African ones, which they mock but find oddly fascinating. There
is a parody shoot-out in which ET is killed and then brought back to life by the
director, and a return to the film’s opening scene. Aristotle’s Plot ends enigmatically with a series of disjointed scenes concerning death and resurrection,
and the end titles unroll to the sound of a song telling us to remember that
a movie is a movie.
Bekolo has said of his approach that ‘each film should give a definition of
film. Otherwise I do not learn anything and I do not feel interested. It is like
an adventure and my definition of film is changing’.12 It is a great loss
to African filmmaking that having made two films quite unlike any others in
the continent’s filmmaking history, Bekolo was not able to continue his exploration of the medium. Jonathan Haynes aptly describes Bekolo as ‘a cagey and
attitudinous guerrilla roaming the post-modern globalised mediascape’,13
and certainly his work opened the way for the successful and award-winning
films of Haroun, Sissako and Kouyaté, which are discussed in subsequent
There is plenty of craziness in Bekolo’s work which carries real conviction.
But the actual depiction of madness in Maghrebian cinema has been much less
successful. The Tunisian Jilani Saadi’s Khorma (2002), for example, is an
uneven study of a village idiot. At first we are amused by Khorma’s antics, then
we come to laugh at the discomforture of those whom he confronts when he
has a little power. But his transition into a tortured Christ-like figure in the
hands of the villagers at the end strikes a discordant note. Another film of considerable ambition is the Moroccan Narjiss Nejjar’s Cry No More/Les Yeux secs
(2003), which began, she tells us, as an idea for a documentary on rural prostitution. But there is little evidence of this in the actual film, a grindingly slow,
sumptuously shot, two-hour symbolic melodrama. Cry No More begins with
the return to her native village of Mina, a woman who has spent over twentyfive years in prison. Only women now live in the village, supporting themselves
and their aged mothers higher up the mountains by prostitution, systematically
killing all their children at birth and adding a new red flag to a nearby ‘cemetery of virginities’ as any new girl reaches puberty and takes up the village trade.
The initial confrontations between Mina and Hala, the forceful daughter who
does not recognise her, and between Hala and Fahd, the prison-warder turned
bus-driver who drove Mina home, are promising. But the film begins to lose its
direction when Fahd puts on a Charlie Chaplin costume to entertain the
women. Then, having done nothing to prevent the child Zinda being prostituted, a weeping Fahd dresses in drag (complete with eye make-up and badly
applied lipstick) in some kind of symbolic taking-on of the prostitutes’ pain,
which also involves him dancing and screaming naked on a snowy mountain
top. After this burst of ill-inspired grandiloquence, the film returns to a banal
semblance of reality with Mina staying on to teach the village girls weaving and
Fahd driving off into the unknown with Hala and Zinda.
As can be seen from the above – and as will become apparent in subsequent
chapters on specific filmmakers – the new generation of francophone African
filmmakers has kept largely to the paths opened up by their elders, even though
African societies have seen huge transformations in the course of the past forty
years. In many ways this is admirable, since, as Milan Kundera argues in a discussion devoted largely to music and the novel,
Great works of art can only be born within the history of their art and as
participants in that history. It is only inside history that we can see what
is new and what is repetitive, what is discovery and what is imitation; in
other words, only inside history can a work exist as a value capable of
being discerned and judged.14
The films of the younger generation are increasingly autobiographical, exploring the immediate issues of exile and identity and making innovative advances
in story structure, and, in the process, creating, as Elisabeth Lequeret notes, ‘an
art of the unsaid, of the ellipse, a dislocation of classical narrative’.15 Partly as
a result of their freedom from many of the social and political concerns which
were so vital to their elders (one thinks of the contrast between the two
Mauritanians, Med Hondo and Abderrahmane Sissako), the newcomers have
shown, in Tahar Chikhaoui’s words, ‘more confidence in the camera and in
reality, from which stems the place accorded to the suggestive force of the
image, liberated from the process of narration, and the growing interest in
the documentary’.16 They have also shown real willingness to explore many of
the new potentialities offered by video technology. But these advances have
largely been limited to a stylistic level, as a comparison with Nigeria shows.
When Françoise Balogun wrote her survey of Nigerian cinema in 1984, she
surveyed a scene not that different from the situation in neighbouring francophone countries: thirty-six fictional features, over half of them shot in 16mm,
produced in fifteen years. Looking at film production structures, she noted that
the state sector ‘is characterised by bureaucratic inertia and bad organisation
which paralyse the production of films’, while the private sector ‘is shackled by
the lack of financial means’.17 The leading filmmaker, Ola Balogun, author of
eight of these films, was even a characteristically francophone intellectual, educated at the University of Caen, trained at IDHEC and author of two Frenchlanguage plays before he turned to filmmaking.18 But she did note perceptively
that film production was far from satisfying popular demand, and by 1997
Jonathan Haynes had a quite different focus: ‘Nigerian video films – dramatic
features shot on video and marketed on cassettes, and sometimes also exhibited publicly with video projectors or television monitors – are being produced
at a rate of nearly one a day.’19 By 2005, Pierre Barrot could look back at a body
of some 7,000 Nigerian video films produced since 1992 and see a current
output of around 1,200 such videos a year, though he noted that the 59 million
euro budget of France’s most expensive film of 2004 – Jean-Jacques Arnaud’s
Deux Frères – would have funded 3,500 Nigerian video films.20 Film finance is
always an opaque matter, and it can be argued that very few European films
cover their costs at the local box office (making a profit depends on television
and video rights and overseas sales). But the form of filmmaking we find in francophone Africa is an extreme example of this economic fact. The lack of boxoffice success of African films in African cinemas (for whatever reason) has
virtually no effect on whether or not the films are made, since the funding continues to come from France. By contrast, Nigerian video production is totally
commercial, with films shot in days and needing to recover their costs in
months. Most Nigerian video films have little artistic worth, but the occasional
exception has emerged. Tunde Kelani, a fifty-seven-year-old Nigerian London
Film School graduate, has, as Barrot notes, ‘developed a mode of production
adapted to Nigerian economic conditions, directed at a popular audience and
local video market’, and merited a retrospective at the New York African Film
Festival in 2004.21 Nothing this revolutionary has occurred in francophone
Africa – the mode of production as well as the established traditions of style
and subject matter continue largely unchanged.22
1. www.bulletin de la guilde africaine des réalisateurs et producteurs 3 – internet publication (March 2001).
2. Moussa Sene Absa, interview in the pressbook of his Madame Brouette (needless to
say, a French-language film), p. 6.
3. Pierre Haffner, ‘D’une fleur double et de quatre mille autres: Sur le développement
du cinéma africain’ (Paris: La Documentation Française), 2000, pp. 27–35.
4. Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton:
Princeton University Press), 2001.
5. René Prédal, Le Jeune cinéma français (Paris: Nathan, 2002), p. 136.
6. Nadir Moknèche, pressbook for Viva Laldgérie.
7. See Roy Armes, Postcolonial Images: Studies in North African Film (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 2005).
8. Issa Serge Coelo, www.africultures – internet publication (30 August 2002).
9. Régina Fanta Nacro, www.africultures – internet publicaion (29 May 2005).
10. For a full analysis of the film, see Armes, Postcolonial Images, pp. 169–77.
11. Jonathan Haynes, ‘African Filmmaking and the Postcolonial Predicament: Quartier
Mozart and Aristotle’s Plot’, in Kenneth W. Harrow (ed.), African Cinema:
Postcolonial and Feminist Readings (Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa
World Press, 1999), p. 31.
12. Jean-Pierre Bekolo, interview, in Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, Black African
Cinema (Berkeley: California University Press, 1994), p. 233.
13. Haynes, ‘African Filmmaking’, p. 27.
14. Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed (London: Faber & Faber, 1995), pp. 17–18.
15. Elisabeth Lequeret, ‘Afrique noire: Des lumières dans le désert’, in Jean Michel
Frodon (ed.), Au Sud du Cinéma (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma/Arte Editions, 2004),
p. 50.
16. Tahar Chikhaoui, in Frodon (ed.), Au Sud du Cinéma, p. 36.
17. Françoise Balogun, Le Cinéma au Nigéria (Paris: OCIC, 1984), p. 13.
18. Ola Balogun, Shango, suivi de Le Roi-Éléphant (Honfleur: Pierre Jean Oswald,
19. Jonathan Haynes, Nigerian Video Films (Jos: Nigerian Film Corporation, 1997),
p. 9.
20. Pierre Barrot (ed.), Nollywood: Le Phénomène vidéo au Nigeria (Paris:
L’Harmattan, 2005), p. 5.
21. Barrot, Nollywood, p. 14.
22. Olivier Barlet notes a new trend for low-budget filmmaking in Burkino Faso in the
work of Boubakar Diallo and Boubacar Zida (known as Sidnaaba): feature-length
films made for about 30.000 each and able to recover their costs locally in a couple
of months. In two years (2004–5), Zida has made and shown two features (Ouaga
Zoodo and Wiibdo) and Diallo four (Traque à Ouaga, Sofia, Dossier brûlant and
Code Phénix). See Olivier Barlet, ‘Les Nouveaux paradoxes des cinémas d’Afrique
noire’, Paris: Africultures 65 (October–December 2005), pp. 39–40.
Because cinema, more than any other art, is above all national, a filmmaker is often the mouth-piece of his community. Even if I have chosen
to live in France, I cannot forget that part of me which is over there, those
founding roots, that lively memory, in spite of exile. Consequently I shall
fight for the visibility of my people.
Mahamat Saleh Haroun1
Mahamat Saleh Haroun was born in Chad in 1963. He moved to France and
studied first filmmaking at the CLCF in Paris and then journalism at the IUT in
Bordeaux. He worked for five years in print journalism and radio before returning to filmmaking, working from a base in Paris (through his company, Les
Productions de la Lanterne) and becoming a key figure in the Guilde africaine
des réalisateurs et producteurs. In the Guild’s first bulletin he defined his (and
their) ambitions:
Because a certain spirit of resistance animates us at the heart of the Guild,
because we are conscious of belonging to the same community destined
to meet the same problems, our group is aware of a responsibility which
should guide us towards the light, around these two words: freedom and
From the first Haroun has been a prolific and eclectic filmmaker. His early
shorter films alternate between documentary and fiction and are in a number
of media: 16mm film – Maral Tanie/La Deuxième épouse (1994, fiction); Beta
SP video – Bord’Africa (1995, documentary), Sotigui Kouyaté, un griot
moderne (1996, documentary), Un thé au Sahel (1998, fiction); 35mm film –
Goï Goï le nain (1995, fiction), B 400 (1997, fiction). His first feature, Bye Bye
Africa (1999), similarly mixes fiction and documentary, black-and-white and
colour sequences. It was shot on Beta SP and transferred to 35mm film for its
release, and features the director himself as its protagonist. By contrast,
Haroun’s second feature, Abouna (2002), is a more distanced, unambiguously
fictional feature, beautifully composed and shot in 35mm colour. Since making
his feature debut, Haroun has completed two further video documentaries:
Letter from New York (2002) and The Essential/L’Essentiel (2003), a short
dealing with the problem of AIDS, made for the Global Dialogue Trust.
The most substantial of Haroun’s early works is his study of Sotigui Kouyaté,
the celebrated griot and actor, who is the father of Dani Kouyaté (see Chapter
11). The film gives a fascinating picture of a man who thrives by living across
cultures, with a family in Burkina Faso and a French wife and children in Paris.
Largely through interviews backed up by film clips, Haroun focuses on his
work in Paris on La Mahabharath, produced by Peter Brooks, for whom
Sotigui is the perfect instinctual actor. We also hear of his contributions to
African theatre and film, see him with his childhood friends in Ouagadougou,
and witness him in his role as a griot versed in African traditions of storytelling
and healing. A key sequence in the middle of the film is his return to Mali, where
he was born, to meet his extended family there for the first time in thirty years.
Despite the complexities of Sotigui’s character, his message is simple. For
a griot, all violence and hatred comes from ignorance and a lack of understanding of others. The film ends with an exchange of songs between Sotigui
and the Malian singer Fanfani Touré.
Despite its title, Bye Bye Africa, Haroun’s first feature, is the story of a homecoming, the filmmaker’s return to Chad after ten years of exile. But unlike the
simple emotionality of Sotigui Kouyaté’s return to Mali, Bye Bye Africa’s
mixture of observation and enactment is so complex that it is difficult to know
whether to call it a documentary fiction or a fictional documentary. Particularly
complex is Haroun’s own status not only as director and scriptwriter, but also
as both authenticating voice-over narrator, Haroun, and lead actor, a seemingly
fictional version of himself, referred to here as ‘Haroun’. The film’s opening sets
the pattern. It begins as an enactment, with Haroun, in bed with his French
wife, being woken in the middle of the night to be told his mother has died.
Almost immediately we hear Haroun, in voice-over, commenting on the
mother’s death, treating it, documentary style, as a real event in his life. When
‘Haroun’ arrives in Chad, the film’s visual aspect is similarly doubled, as the
colour images of the main narrative are intercut with the first of the black-andwhite images (taken by the video camera which ‘Haroun’ carries with him at
all times) which will recur throughout the film.
As a result, when we move on to Haroun’s meeting with his bereaved father,
we have no way of knowing whether this is what really happened as the two
came face-to-face (as when Sotigui Kouyaté visited Mali) or whether the scene
was scripted by Haroun. The second scene between the two clarifies matters
since it is clearly scripted, referring to a film about Freud which does not
appear in any Haroun filmography and underlining the two key themes of the
film. Here the father questions what is the use of cinema and, in particular,
rejects the approach of ‘Haroun’: ‘Your films are not made for us. They are
for the whites’. He also warns about exile: ‘The white people’s land is nice,
but it’s not yours and never will be. The day you think you belong there, you’ll
lose your soul’. In response ‘Haroun’ screens film footage of his mother, shot
at his sister’s wedding by his friend Garba, and explains that he makes films
for the sake of memory, quoting Jean-Luc Godard’s adage that ‘cinema creates
In the following colour sequence, this questioning of cinema is taken further
as Haroun, in voice-over, laments not having been there for his mother’s funeral
and talks about his need to find refuge by making a film about her. This leads
directly to an enacted scene in which ‘Haroun’, riding pillion on Garba’s
scooter, talks about the film he is going to make in a year’s time, which is, of
course, to be called Bye Bye Africa. Asked what it is about, Haroun compares
it to a set of Russian dolls, dealing with ‘cinema, exile, family, love, about life
in short’. There are two questions confronting him: ‘how do you film life?’ and
‘what is the point of making films which no-one in Chad will see?’. These questions are probed further in a series of seemingly authentic black-and-white
interviews with various people once involved with cinema in Chad, who are
asked about their view of the future of cinema there. The interviewees include
Garba who, it turns out, was once projectionist at Le Normandie and inspired
‘Haroun’ to become a filmmaker, and the daughter of the founder of the Étoile,
who still dreams of renovating it. Haroun’s doubts remain: how to believe in
cinema in a country where war has become a culture?
After this seeming documentary sequence, the film plunges back into fiction
with ‘Haroun’ beaten up in the street by a man who accuses him of stealing his
image. The scenes of ‘Haroun’s face being treated by Garba are intercut with
shots of ‘Haroun’s nephew and a friend playing with a toy camera made out of
recycled cans. Garba explains the attacker’s motives. In Chad, people distrust
the camera and have a great problem with images. They cannot separate fiction
and reality (a knowing comment perhaps on audiences of the real Bye Bye
Africa?). This problem of the inability to separate fiction from reality is illustrated by what is the weakest section of the film, the story of the actress Isabelle
who appeared in a film about AIDS made by the character ‘Haroun’ (a film
which the real Haroun had not yet made). Her life has been ruined because
everyone thinks she must be HIV positive, since, as she tells him, ‘Cinema is
stronger than reality’. Though ‘Haroun’ wants sex with her, he brutally refuses
any commitment or responsibility.
‘Haroun’ next meets a Chadian film producer who likes the script of the fictional Bye Bye Africa, but finds it too expensive to produce. When he suggests
using video, Haroun protests that he wants to make real cinema – again
ironic, since the real Bye Bye Africa was in fact shot on video. ‘Haroun’ next
meets his friend Issa Serge Coelo (the real-life director of Daresalam) and persuades him to allow his film-mad nephew Ali to stay and watch the day’s
filming. Ali had earlier tried to steal ‘Haroun’s video camera and then offered
to exchange his toy camera for it. Despite the lack of the producer’s backing,
‘Haroun’ goes ahead with his auditions, filming the actor’s responses with his
video camera. Again, the black-and-white images we see could show real
actors hoping for a film role or be improvised scenes directed by Haroun. A
letter from the (real) Congolese director Jean-Pierre Fila is then read out in
voice-over, confirming that the situation in Congo is the same as that in Chad.
This series of scenes concerning cinema concludes with another black-andwhite interview, this time with the owner of one of the video rooms which
have replaced cinemas.
We then return to the fictional story with Garba winning the lottery which
will allow him to achieve his ambition of emigrating to the United States. At
the celebratory party in a nightclub a spectral Isabelle accuses ‘Haroun’:
‘Reality scares you, so you cower behind your stupid dramas. I’m not a fictional
character, I’m real’. After a visit to his grandmother, ‘Haroun’ hears the voice
of his father, urging him to take responsibility. He then sets out to locate
Isabelle, only to find her dead body. A video she has left behind explains why
she has killed herself. ‘Haroun’ is left in tears, protesting it was just a casual
affair. Our first real sight of the grandmother, a distant figure hobbling across
a courtyard, is accompanied by Haroun’s voice-over talking tenderly of her and
explaining that she brought him up. Then it is time for farewells. ‘Haroun’ gives
his camera to his nephew who films his departure while the voice-over ends the
story. As the final credits unroll, we learn that all the scenes, even the meeting
with the father and the black-and-white interviews and auditions, were played
by actors.
Bye Bye Africa is a good example of the kind of stylistic innovation we can
increasingly expect from the millennium generation, as they are faced with
limited budgets but all the new potential of video technology. The narrative
Figure 10.1
Mahamat Saleh Haroun: Bye Bye Africa
pattern, whereby we see the film we are actually watching ostensibly being
made, may not be new, but the way in which the on-screen action is reinforced
by the authoritative, documentary-style voice-over creates some interesting
tensions, and the handling of the black-and-white material and its insertion
into the narrative is excellent. The film deals with the uncertain relationship
between cinema and reality and creates a real ambivalence in audience
response. Of Haroun’s stated list of themes – his set of Russian dolls – only
cinema gets any real exploration; exile and family are underplayed and ‘love’,
if that is what it can be called, is both unconvincing and totally lacking in any
moral perspective.
Nothing could be further from Bye Bye Africa than Haroun’s second feature,
Our Father/Abouna, with its 35mm format, its beautiful and composed style,
and its intensely moral tone. Haroun claims that he choose the subject for its
relevance to contemporary Chad where, it seems, ‘there are daily messages on
the national radio from women seeking their husbands who have gone off
without saying a word’. Instead of the usual focus on the man who emigrates,
Haroun chose to focus on the suffering of the women and children who are left
Figure 10.2
Mahamat Saleh Haroun: Abouna (Our Father)
behind. His three other key points of reference are indicated by the posters
outside the cinema: Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (Chaplin is Haroun’s ‘first reference’), Idrissa Ouedraogo, who, in Yaaba, ‘achieves something truly magical’,
and Jim Jarmusch, whose cinema, exemplified by Stranger Than Paradise, is
‘nomadic, searching, setting a possible dream under way, profoundly anchored
in life’.3 Haroun worked closely with his designer, Laurent Cavero, and director of photography, Abraham Haïlé Biru, to ensure that ‘everything in the frame
was significant, so as to attain a dimension that was essentially sacred’. In addition, he worked with his friend, the Chadian painter and calligrapher Kader
Badawi, to ensure ‘the harmony of the colours so that the film would flow like
a river, strong in tonality and harmony’.4
The tone of Abouna is set in the credit sequence, which comprises just two
very formally composed shots. In the first shot a man is seen in long-shot
walking with a suitcase in an empty, hilly landscape. In shot two, which is
closer, the man turns and looks directly at the camera, then turns away, moves
off and vanishes beneath the brow of the hill. The credits unroll over this longheld shot. Then, as the final credit (the director’s name) vanishes, the man reappears in extreme long-shot, beginning to climb the next hill. We later discover
that we are witnessing a tragic moment in the man’s life – he is abandoning his
family and going into exile – but emotion is held back and nothing is allowed
to disturb our feelings directly.
The same mood of tranquillity holds during the opening scenes of the narrative. It is only when their father fails to turn up to referee a children’s football
game that the two brothers, fifteen-year-old Tahir and eight-year-old Amine,
begin to wonder where he is. When their mother arrives home, she tells them
that their father has been irresponsible and has gone. Touchingly, Amine gets
out the dictionary to look up the word, concluding that ‘irresponsible’ means
his father was not responsible for going away. It is typical of Haroun’s elliptical
style that we never learn precisely what made the father leave or what his relationship with the mother was. The narrative, which is pared down from the
beginning, becomes more and more sparse as the film continues. Next day the
two boys go to the Chad-Cameroon border to see if their father is there, but
find nothing. A pair of beautifully contrived panning shots captures their situation perfectly. The long-shot of their journey out emphasises their fragility
amid the squalor of N’Djaména, while the answering shot of their return brings
out the fraternal closeness which is their strength. On their return we see the
sorrow etched into their mother’s face.
Some sort of normality returns. Tahir fulfils his father’s role in reading to
Amine from the copy of Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince which he carried with
him at all times. Amine has an asthma attack from which he soon recovers. The
pair continue their search for their father only to discover that he was dismissed
from his job over two years ago. Again, there are gaps in the narrative. We never
learn why he was fired or what he did in the two years of unemployment, when
he left ‘for work’ every morning. Everything is told at the level of the children’s
experience. Then comes a magical moment. While they are watching a film,
they see an actor who looks just like their father from the back and who turns
round to say ‘Hello, children’. The resemblance is so striking that Amine even
talks back to the figure on the screen. Next morning, at Amine’s suggestion,
they skip school and go instead to the cinema where they saw the film. This,
incidentally, is the kind of modern cinema with plush blue seats that ‘Haroun’
in Bye Bye Africa argued no longer exists in N’Djaména (marking yet another
point of difference between the two films). The pair steal the film reel, roll it
home like a hoop and take it apart looking for the image of their father. They
are surprised by their mother, to whom Tahir lies, but the cinema owner and
the police are already there. They are taken to the police station and only escape
a beating through their mother’s intervention. On the way home the mother
laments: ‘Shame on me. A husband who leaves. Children who steal’.
Next day, in another unexplained twist in the narrative, the mother drives
with them to a koranic school, a much harsher environment, where the master
assures her that he will make good people of them. For a time they seem to
settle in. Amine is spoilt by the master’s wife, because he looks like her
drowned son Moussa, and Tahir meets a beautiful girl who is, it transpires,
mute. But soon trouble occurs and both are beaten, with Tahir, who is unrepentant, even tied to a post. Then they receive news that their father is in
Tangiers and has sent them a present, a picture of the beach and the sea. Their
joy is short-lived, as Amine falls ill and his medicine is missing. The treatment
of his death shows Haroun’s stylistic approach to perfection. We see Amine
smiling in close-up as Le Petit Prince is read to him, then we cut to a beautifully composed shot of the window from the outside and, as the camera pulls
back, the reading turns into a lament. Tahir, left alone with just the dream
image of Amine and himself playing on the beach in Tangiers, makes his second
escape attempt. This time it is successful and he is joined by the mute girl in
her customary gold dress.
Up to this point the narrative has flowed continuously, though with many of
the key moments concealed from us: the boys’ capture when they first try to
escape, Tahir swearing on the Koran that he will not try to escape again,
Amine’s death. After Tahir arrives back at N’Djaména with the girl and they
cut their wrists and mix blood to symbolise their union, the film becomes a succession of very loosely linked tableaux, each ending with a cut or fade to black
and each marking a stage in Tahir’s progression from a child to a fifteen-yearold with adult responsibilities. We see the couple in a dream image smiling and
waving from a scooter, then, without narrative transition, we see Tahir learning that his mother is in a psychiatric hospital and going with the girl to ‘free’
her. In the final scene, all the elements are brought together: the mother in a
seemingly unconscious state, the couple very much in love, Tahir with his
father’s map. As he begins to sing, the mother joins in and the film cuts to
a long-shot of the trio and then fades to black.
Inevitably, there can be no resolution to this story and it is hard to imagine
what will happen next. At least until the final series of tableaux, the pace is
steady and deliberate, indeed so reverential that one hardly dares to laugh at
what are clearly comic incidents, such as Tahir discovering the girl is twenty
(‘You’re old!’) or the girl creeping up behind the hospital attendant and hitting
him over the head with a pan. This Chaplinesque mixture of humour and
pathos is rare in African cinema. Visually, the film is sumptuous, with a succession of perfectly framed images, though at times the use of complementary
colours (orange for Amine, blue for Tahir, gold for the girl) seems overcontrived
in its overt colour-coding. As with Mansour Sora Wade’s The Price of
Forgiveness, the care given to formal composition is almost oppressive.
Haroun’s strength lies in his ability to depict so precisely the unspoken ties that
bind people and their inner strengths – the links that unite Tahir first with his
brother Amine and then with the mute girl who becomes, as it were, his ‘bloodsister’, when they mingle their blood to give witness to their unity.
1. Mahamat Saleh Haroun, ‘Un certain esprit de résistance’, www.bulletin de la guilde
africaine des réalisateurs et producteurs – internet publication (March 2000).
2. Ibid.
3. Mahamat Saleh Haroun, interview, Africultures 54, Paris, 2003, p. 166.
4. Ibid., p. 167.
Why am I so interested in oral dramaturgy? In my view, if Africa is to
bring its dance contribution to the universal rondo, where each civilisation brings its own dance, then the technical and dramatic richness of oral
dramaturgy can help us.
Dani Kouyaté1
Dani Kouyaté (the name is sometimes spelt as Dany) was born in Bobodioulasso,
in Burkina Faso, in 1961. Descended from one of the most celebrated families of
griots, his father was the celebrated griot and actor Sotigui Kouyaté, who plays
the leading role in Dani’s first feature. Within traditional Mande society, with its
three-caste structure of nobles, artisans and slaves, griots were ranked in the
middle category, alongside blacksmiths and leather-workers, as men of the word.
In a society without writing, their role was the preservation of memory and mediation between people and power. Given their control of verbal expression, as
both historians and genealogists for their peoples, griots had considerable power
and authority. Valérie Thiers-Thiam notes that, ‘The griot enjoys a great freedom
of speech, he uses flattery and well as mockery; no-one, not even senior dignitaries, escapes the risk of hearing home truths and seeing himself ridiculed by a
Though Dani Kouyaté himself was never initiated as a young man (as his
father had been), he believes that ‘cinema can be an extraordinary means of
allowing the griot to survive’.3 It was only later in life, paradoxically, that he
learned about traditional culture, from books, and he admits that in terms of
his education, he has ‘benefited more from Cartesian culture than traditional
culture’.4 But, in interviews, he slips easily into the suggestion that he is indeed
a griot in the traditional sense: ‘my function as a griot is to transmit, communicate, defend, and for that you have to use all the means which are available
today’.5 And again, ‘I think that cinema can be an extraordinary means of
allowing the griot to survive’.6 Whereas his father is a natural, untrained actor,
Dani Kouyaté studied anthropology and filmmaking in Paris (the latter at both
the Université de Paris III and the Sorbonne). While living in Paris, where he is
still mostly based, he also founded a theatre company, ‘The Griot’s Voice’ / ‘La
Voix du griot’, which did several tours in Europe. In addition, before embarking on his first feature, he directed or co-directed several shorts: Bilakoro
(1989), Tobbere Kosam/Poussière de lait (1990) and The Crocodile’s Sacred
Tears/Les Larmes sacrées du crocodile (1992). He has also set up his own production company, Sahélis Productions, in Burkina Faso and participated in the
production of the twelve episode téléfilm series, Life is Ours/À nous la vie
(1998) for Burkinabè television (TNB).
In his first feature, Keita! The Heritage of the Griot/Keïta! L’Héritage du griot
(1994), Kouyaté deals with the epic of Sundjata, which constitutes ‘the founding myth of Manding culture: it recounts the history of the foundation of the
Mande empire by Sundjata Keïta, a great thirteenth-century warrior’.7 Mande
is the area around the upper reaches of the river Niger, roughly comprising what
is now Mali and Guinea and the nearby coastal states, and the epic of Sundjata is
a tale that can be told only by a griot and thereby ‘gives the griot his place in
Manding society and ideology’.8 The Kouyaté family, from whom Dani is
descended, were by tradition the griots of the ruling Keïta family. In passing, it
is interesting to note, as Valérie Thiers-Thiam points out, that a filmmaker
descended from a family of griots should base his film account on the version
written by a historian, Djibril Tamsir Niane.9
The film begins with the griot, played by Sotigui Kouyaté and referred to in
the film by the Mande term Djeliba, asleep in his hammock. We see his dream
or vision of the origins of the world, narrated by Sotigui himself:
The world was born out of chaos. The shadows and darkness of pre-life
had just been dissipated. Wagadu was the theatre for the first meeting of
all the creatures of the universe. At that time no-one commanded men and
then one man, Maghan Kan Fatta got up and spoke to all the others: The
world shouldn’t be like this, without a leader. I want to be your king.
Figure 11.1
the Griot)
Dani Kouyaté: Keïta! l’Héritage du griot (Keita! The Heritage of
Are you agreed?’ They all replied together, ‘Konate’ (‘no-one hates you’)
and immediately Maghan Kan Fatta took the name Konate and proclaimed himself king of the Mande.
Djeliba is roused from his sleep by the mythical figure of the hunter and sets
out for the town, with just his stick, his water pouch and his hammock. The
subsequent narrative is based not just on the juxtaposition of myth and reality,
Djeliba’s story and everyday life, but also on the contrast of two contemporary
worlds. The first is that of the griot, who is immersed in Mande tradition, lives
a simple rural life, sleeps outdoors and hates the town. The other is the very different life of the schoolboy Mabo Keïta, who is growing up in a Frenchspeaking household in town and being given a very Westernised education.
When Mabo returns from school and asks about his ancestors and why he is
called Keïta, Djeliba reveals that his mission is to answer these questions,
though this will take not a day or even a year, but a whole lifetime.
Djeliba begins his story, ‘It all began with a poor antelope, at a time of
drought. A hunter was passing . . .’, and we see a simple reconstruction of
Maghan Kan Fatta’s court. Here there is nothing spectacular of the kind found
in Sissoko’s Guimba or La Genèse, just a stress on the ordinary and everyday.
The mythical figure of the hunter, whom we have already seen rousing Djeliba,
reads his cowrie shells and tells the king that he must marry a very ugly girl who
will come his way, because their son will become heir to the Mande empire.
When the huge and ugly Buffalo Woman of Do (daughter of a buffalo which
terrorised the country and killed ten hunters) is brought to his court, the king
has to follow the cowries’ prophesy. The child Mabo, who is totally caught up
in this tale of a mythical past which involves his ancestors, begins to skip school
to hear more of the story. There is a a great ceremony, but the king needs seven
months to conquer his wife’s resistance. The pregnancy lasts eighteen months
and the boy, Sundjata, to whom she gives birth is a cripple, unable to stand and
scorned as a worm by the villagers.
Mabo’s neglect of his studies prompts his teacher, Fofana, to visit his parents
to warn them what is happening. The result is a memorable confrontation with
Djeliba, who argues that if he does not know the meaning and origin of his own
name, he is unfit to teach. On learning that Fofana does not set the pattern of
the school year, but that this is done by a government minister, Djeliba reveals
his own unconscious arrogance in his reply: ‘Send for him then, I’ll wait here’.
But the question of what is appropriate knowledge is forcefully put. In his claim
that griots work for everyone and for nothing, Djeliba sets up the familiar
dichotomy between ‘real’ griots (like himself) and ‘false’ ones (like the griotte
who sings praise songs to Mabo’s father for money at a party). This is a contrast that runs through African cinema from Ousmane Sembene’s pioneering
short Borom Sarret in 1963 onwards, and, as Valérie Thiers-Thiam ruefully
notes, with the sole exception of Ababacar Samb-Makharam’s Jom, griottes
(female griots) are always depicted as ‘false and avaricious’.10
Djeliba continues his story. When the king dies, he names Sundjata as his heir
and appoints Balla Fassehe as his griot, but his first wife seizes the throne for
her own son. By now Mabo is not only missing school, but also getting two of
his friends involved by retelling the story to them daily, while all three are
perched in the baobab tree. Within the story, years pass. When the queen insults
his mother, the now fully grown Sandjata is faced with a crisis, but this too has
been foreseen. The old blacksmith made him an iron bar with which to struggle to his feet. This first attempt fails, but a second try, aided this time by a
branch brought by his mother, is successful. Now he can walk and show his
strength by tearing up a baobab tree single-handed.
But at this point, Mabo’s storytelling days are at an end, as he is expelled from
school and his two friends are punished by their teacher. But Djeliba can tell one
last episode – Sundjata’s confrontation with his half-brother which results in
him being sent into exile – before his storytelling has to cease, long before the
origins of the Keïta name have been reached. When the two other parents confront Mabo’s father angrily, Djeliba realises it is time to go, telling Mabo that
this is only the beginning and that the story, like the wind, is unstoppable.
Abandoned, Mabo has for company the bird which Djeliba has said will watch
over him, and he is consoled by the hunter, who now appears to him: ‘The world
is old and the future grows out of the past – and there will be other griots’.
Keïta! L’Héritage du griot is a film that recaptures the verve, humour and
apparently artless simplicity of the late 1960s and early 1970s work of the
Niger directors Oumarou Ganda and Mustapha Alassane. Like them, Kouyaté
is working with a limited budget (though in 35mm) but is still able to apply a
light touch to Africa’s past and adopt a nicely tuned approach to the present.
The film is, in fact, carefully structured, with tellingly placed appearances by
the legendary hunter (as much at home in the twentieth century as in the thirteenth) and an excellent narrative progression, whereby the storytelling by
Djeliba is taken over midway through the film by Mabo himself. Kouyaté draws
humour as well as strangeness from the legend and one can understand how
captivating it becomes for Mabo. At the end, one wants a sequel, for surely
there are many other tests and trials for Sundjata (descended on his father’s side
from the prophet Mohamed and on his mother’s from the Buffalo Woman of
Do) before he comes into his inheritance. Sotigui Kouyaté is never less than
riveting as the griot, giving huge vitality to a character who, in the script, was
a dying old man,11 but one can see that the griot’s time has passed for ever. At
the same time there is a real sadness about this new generation of children
growing up with a knowledge of Europe, but none of their own African past.
Olivier Barlet summed up the film precisely when he wrote that Keïta! is ‘attractive, profound, sensitive and above all successful’.12
Sia, The Dream of the Python/Sia, le rêve du python (2000), ‘freely inspired’ by
the Mauritanian Moussa Diagana’s play, La Légende du Wagadu vue par Sia
Yatabéré, goes back even further into the past to examine one of the founding
myths of West Africa itself. Sia, which opens with a dark mysterious ritual, is
an altogether more sombre film, full of madness, intrigue and death. A title
introduces the plot: ‘The legend tells us that at one time, the empire offered its
most beautiful girls to the Python-God in return for prosperity’. It answers the
question, ‘Where does this story unfold today? In which epoch?’, with a quote
from Jean Cocteau: ‘Legends have the privilege of being ageless’, and allows us
to decide for ourselves. The first character to introduce himself is a madman,
Kerfa, who scornfully salutes the suffering and poverty of the people of Koumbi
and denounces the king, Kaya Maghan. At court, the priests come to demand
the sacrifice of Sia Yatabéré, the virgin named by the oracles. The king agrees,
though the head of his armies, Wakhane (Sotigui Kouyaté as convincing as an
evil schemer as he was as an innocent griot), disagrees, since she is engaged to
his nephew Mamadi. When Sia flees, the king’s first response is to have
Wakhane arrest and brutalise all who knew her. But Wakhane is more subtle.
He refuses to punish Kerfa, who continually sings his favourite refrain, ‘He who
sows misery, reaps only penury’, on the grounds that he will be more trouble
dead (as a martyr) than alive (as a madman). Stung by the vehement protests
of Sia’s friend Penda, who offers herself for sacrifice in her place, Wakhane
releases everyone who has been arrested, much to the queen’s anger.
But Wakhane has his own agenda, and keeps the whereabouts of Sia secret
until his nephew has been able to say his farewells. Kerfa meanwhile thoroughly
enjoys his role as Sia’s saviour, giving her both warnings and enigmatic hints of
survival: ‘You’ll know when the story has run its course – if you’re alive of
course’. He enjoys even more a confrontation with Kaya Maghan whom he
openly insults and who reveals himself more in need of Kerfa than Kerfa is of
him. Later, Kerfa complains to Sia that the king had wanted his dreams, his
madness and indicates her personal powerlessness: ‘Whatever you do, the story
will take its course’. When Mamadi arrives, he shows himself determined to kill
the Python-God, in whom his uncle still believes, and free Sia. But when he and
his men enter the Python’s lair, they learn that there is indeed no python, just
the priests who rape and murder their annual victims. They save Sia’s life, but
only after she has been raped and left wanting to die. Here Wakhane shows his
true ruthlessness, killing all who know the truth, including Mamadi’s faithful
soldiers, so that Mamadi can become the new Kaya Maghan, the heroic slayer
of the Python-God. Though he saves Sia from his uncle’s ruthlessness, she
refuses to marry him because his new kingdom is built on the same falsehood
and violence as the old one. Kerfa had once told her that not everyone could
become mad, madness had to be earned. Sia has earned her madness and now
has the true insight once possessed by Kerfa: ‘The new king is dead, dead in the
well of falsehood’. She strides, bare-breasted, out of the palace and, in one of
African cinema’s most startling transitions, the film’s last shot shows her in
modern-day Koumbi, calling on the people to rise up and chanting Kerfa’s song,
‘He who sows misery, reaps only penury’.
Kouyaté’s stated aim in Sia was to tell a universal story, not to recreate faithfully the African past (the costumes in the film, for example, were designed by a
Swiss woman, Judith Hentz, who had never even been to Africa), and he was
delighted when audiences in Burkina Faso saw immediate political relevance in
the film.13 Kouyaté is always keen to remind his audience that what they are
watching is a story, with the particular viewpoints and conventions of fiction. In
Keïta, the hunter explains to Mabo that the hunters always win in stories because
they are the ones who tell them: ‘If the lion told them, he’d win sometimes’. Here
Kerfa muses to Sia, when he is hiding her, that, ‘Stories always have madmen, but
madmen never have stories’. The dialogue too is full of (perhaps invented?)
African sayings, such as the king’s ‘The corpse doesn’t play hide-and-seek with
Figure 11.2
Dani Kouyaté: Sia, le rêve du python (Sia, The Dream of the Python)
the undertaker’, or Kerfa’s ‘A father and a mother are but a mere trifle – a simple
meeting’. Kouyaté’s stories may be simple fables, but they are told with elegance,
an extreme lightness of touch and a clear sense of narrative structure. Perhaps
the major reason why they are so captivating is that his characters refuse to bow
down to some preordained fate. Surely at the end of Keïta, Mabo will pursue the
story of his ancestors, and even if he completes his school studies, he will not
become the unquestioning francophone his parents intended. Here in Sia,
Mamadi, though he finally succumbs to his uncle’s web of deception, has earlier
taken a clear personal stand in refusing a tradition that requires human sacrifice,
going far beyond anything his uncle can imagine.
Kouyaté’s third film, Ouaga Saga (2004), was a fresh departure for Kouyaté in
almost every way, since he was here shooting on high definition video (which
allowed the inclusion of a generous sprinkling of special effects), and working
not from his own script but from one written by two Frenchman as a kind of
homage to the city of Ouagadougou which they know and love. This is a totally
optimistic vision of Africa today, enthusiastically acted by its team of young performers and full of little gags and lightly handled touches of magic (including
a fetisher who summons up fake visions of horse racing results, and even a
Figure 11.3
Dani Kouyaté: Ouaga Saga
talking donkey). The focus is on a band of adolescents who live largely as a community on the streets, while each possesses a private dream (often reflected in a
nickname): Moussa, eager to have his own garage; Bouremah and his brother
Bouba who want to run a dance band; Bouftout who longs for a restaurant; Pele
who is a budding football star; and Sherif who dreams of cinema. Sherif’s
passion for westerns imbues the whole film, which begins with clips from Rio
Bravo and adds typical music from the film when a group of angry mothers
march on the police station to demand the release of their sons. The boys are
clearly delinquents (they steal and dismantle a motor scooter early in the film),
but they retain their good humour at all times, buoyed up by the film’s constant
bursts of music and dance. The gang’s exploits are never censured, and the film
allows them a lottery win which enables them all to realise their dreams. In particular, Sherif is able to transform the Ouagacinema of the opening into his own
personal Ouagamultiplex in a final magical transformation. The film is well
matched to its intended poplar film and television audience and shows yet
again the versatility of the new millennium generation. In an African cinema
dominated by realism and serious intentions, Kouyaté’s lighter mixture of everyday life, humour and magic offers an equally valid insight into the continent’s
1. Dani Kouyaté, ‘Sia, le rêve du python’, www.bulletin de la guilde africaine des réalisateurs et producteurs 4 – internet publication (May 2001).
2. Valérie Thiers-Thiam, À chacun son griot (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004), pp. 15–16.
3. P. G. Despierre (ed.), Le Griot, le psychanalyste et le cinéma africain (Paris:
Grappaf/L’Harmattan, 2004), p. 138.
4. Ibid., p. 141.
5. Dani Kouyaté, interview in Despierre, Le Griot, p. 136.
6. Ibid., p. 138.
7. Thiers-Thiam, A chacun son griot, p. 23.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., p. 138.
10. Ibid., pp. 137–8.
11. Dani Kouyaté, interview, Africultures 49 (Paris, 2002), p. 91.
12. Olivier Barlet, ‘Keïta! L’Héritage du griot’, Africultures 2 (Paris, 1997), p. 51.
13. Dani Kouyaté, interview, www.africultures – internet publication (February 2002).
The only problem with being a woman filmmaker and having a woman as
the film’s subject is that the woman is often seen as the victim and is softspoken . . . I really want to break out, to go beyond that and tackle really
difficult subjects and not be so sweet and soft-spoken about it. I think
that’s the tendency for women filmmakers making films about women.
Raja Amari1
Raja Amari was born into a middle-class family in Tunis (her father was a civil
servant and her mother designed children’s clothes) in 1971. She studied French
literature and civilisation at the University of Tunis I, before going on to study
film at FEMIS in Paris, from which she graduated in 1998. She currently divides
her time between Paris and Tunis. Before making her first feature, she worked
as a film critic for various Tunisian film reviews, contributing, for example, articles to the early issues of Cinécrits on filmmakers as diverse as Mahmoud Ben
Mahmoud, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Raymond Depardon and Michel Khleifi, and on
subjects ranging from the depiction of space in Tunisian films to the amateur
film movement. Her stated preference (when asked in 2004) was for Italian and
French filmmakers, Pier Paolo Pasolini having been an early influence. She added
that she felt very close to the new French cinema, to young French filmmakers
like François Ozon and Arnaud Despleschin: ‘It’s not that they come out of the
same school as me, FEMIS, it’s more that I like the way they deal with their
characters.2 Though she has a particular fondness for the actresses, such as
Samia Gamal, who appeared in the classic Egyptian musicals of the 1940s and
1950s, which she first saw with her mother as a child, it is certainly difficult to
see antecedents for her first feature in any area of Arab or African cinema.
Before making her first feature, Satin rouge (2002), Amari also made three
short films, beginning with The Bouquet/Le Bouquet (1995). Her best known
short is April/Avril (1998), an atmospheric thirty-minute piece shot in 35mm
and dealing with a ten-year-old girl, Amina, who comes to Tunis to work as a
maid to two lonely sisters. Gradually Amina is drawn into the games of sickness and suffering that the sisters play out daily, becoming a sort of doll to be
cosseted and cared for. Amari followed this with a further twenty-seven-minute
short, One Evening in July/Un soir de juillet (2001), a gain in 35mm, which
deals with the close relationship that grows between Miriam, a young woman
hesitating on the brink of marriage, and Saida, an old woman whose role is to
help brides on their wedding day, with henna, make-up and massage. In 2004
Amari completed her first video documentary, Tracking Oblivion/Sur les traces
de l’oubli (2004), which deals with an emblematic figure in North African feminism, the nineteenth-century European explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, who lived
with all the freedom of a man and had a particular regard for the spartan life
of the Bedouin tribes.
If, as Tahar Chikhaoui has observed, Satin Rouge (2002) is ‘undoubtedly the
most remarkable Tunisian film of recent years’,3 this is more because of the way
the subject matter is handled than because of any particular stylistic innovation.
The subject has a filmic origin in Amari’s love of Egyptian 1940s and 1950s
musicals rather than in personal experience. She had never set foot in a cabaret
before she started seeking locations for the film, though she had grown up living
almost next door to one (that used in the film) and, like the daughter in the film,
had taken bellydancing lessons. The film was not intended as a general study
of women’s role in Tunisian society, but as the investigation of a particular
woman, Lilia: ‘I just started out with that specific character. I wanted to study
her evolution and how she’s going to journey through the film. I didn’t want to
set the character against society’.4 By choosing a foreigner, Hiam Abbass, a
Palestinian who lives in Paris, to embody her image of Tunisian womanhood,
Amari was following a well established tradition in Tunisian filmmaking. After
using the French actress, Juliette Berto, for the lead in his first feature, Abdellatif
Ben Ammar chose an Algerian actress (Dalida Ramès) and a Lebanese actress
(Yasmine Khlat) for the key roles in his masterpiece, Aziza. Similarly, Taïeb
Louhichi, after choosing an Italian, Despina Tomazini, to play the Bedouin
matriarch in Shadow of the Earth, cast a Roumanian actress, Anka Nicolaï, as
Figure 12.1
Raja Amari: Satin Rouge (Red Satin)
the dream embodiment of Arab beauty in his adaptation of the classic tale of
Leila and Majnun, Leila My Reason.5 In personal terms, Satin Rouge changed
Amari’s relationship with her parents, ‘For the first time I was able to talk with
them about subjects like sexuality . . . I had grown up’.6
The essential aspects of the situation of the protagonist, Lilia, are beautifully
captured in the complex three-minute panning and tracking shot which precedes
the main film title. Lilia is first seen cleaning windows and, as she continues
around the room, dusting and tidying, the camera initially precedes her to some
key object in her life (two photographs of her husband, her simple toilet accessories and a photograph of her daughter as a baby) each time she moves into shot.
Pausing before the mirror, she seems to hear for the first time the rhythm of the
popular Egyptian music which has been playing on the radio since the beginning,
catches the rhythm and begins to sway to and fro. She lets down her hair and
begins to dance demurely but sensuously round the room. But when she comes
back to the mirror, she frowns, pulls back her hair and resumes her dusting.
The film proper begins with a series of little scenes, divided by fades to black
which sum up Lilia’s life as the dutiful mother. First we see her sewing and
watching an Egyptian melodrama on television, waiting for her daughter who
is late. The film’s dialogue has relevance to the way the plot will unfold, though
at the moment it looks like a glimpse into a totally alien fictional world: ‘If
Figure 12.2
Raja Amari: Satin Rouge (Red Satin)
I were really a liberated woman, would that upset you?’ ‘It all depends’. ‘Then
I’m yours’. Next Lilia is shown eating and watching television alone, then fetching her daughter, from her dancing class, where she notices Salma’s closeness to
the drummer playing for the class. When she sees him again on the street, she
follows him to the cabaret where he works, glancing in timidly, as she had at
Salma’s dancing class.
One reason why Satin Rouge has such an impact is that these opening scenes,
showing Lilia as a widow, concerned with domestic issues and worried about
her daughter’s welfare, echo the stereotypical role of a woman in Tunisian
cinema and indeed in Arab cinema in general. Ferid Boughedir has observed that
the most striking difference between Tunisian cinema and all other Arab cinemas
is the fact that ‘families are almost always deprived of fathers and the woman
has the predominant role. The fathers are either dead (sometimes they die at the
very beginning of the film) or are defective, drunks, lacking a sense of responsibility. Always negative.’7 But though predominant in the narrative, women do
not dominate the action. The woman is ‘either the victim of centuries of unjust
traditions which have made her no more than a token of exchange and a slave
who must be freed, or the mother who is the guardian of tradition and acts to
protect it’.8 In this first sequence, Lilia seems to fit this latter role exactly.
But when her daughter stays overnight at a party, Lilia is drawn out of the
house after dark and goes to the cabaret, ostensibly in search of her daughter.
Here she crosses a line since, as Amari explains, giving the reason why she herself
had never been to a cabaret before making the film: ‘In Tunisia, as in all Arab
countries, it’s a place with too bad a reputation for a respectable woman to go
to’.9 When Lilia first enters the world of the cabaret with its exclusively male
audience, its colour, lights, dancing and music, the effect is too much for her and
she faints. Here we see for the first time what will be the basic structure of the
film, the meeting of two opposed worlds, ‘the world of the day, strict, dominant
and prudish, and the world of the night, relaxed, marginal, lascivious’.10
Back home next morning she quarrels with Salma and then makes up. When
she goes shopping next day, she meets Folla, the dancer who helped her and
whose dance she had watched admiringly, and we learn she is a dressmaker.
Doing little jobs for Folla brings her back to the cabaret, and one evening she
tries on one of the costumes and dances to herself in front of the mirror, then
finds herself dragged out on stage as ‘the surprise of the evening, the new star’.
She appears in the line-up and gives a very spirited performance. The boss criticises her, however, for letting herself go too much and not being professional.
He signs her on, but on condition that she takes lessons. The colourful, animated atmosphere among the girls, all laughing and helping each other, conveys
a world that one can understand the lonely Lilia being drawn to, so the first
stage of her double life begins. In conventional social terms, the cabaret dancers
are dishonourable. As the ethnographer Karin van Nieuwkerk notes, ‘Female
performers are evaluated primarily as women and only secondarily as performers, and because they are women who exhibit their bodies, they are shameful’.11 But none of this is apparent backstage among these basically happy,
uninhibited and seemingly unexploited (if underpaid) women.
Lilia’s double life gradually takes its toll on her life as a respectable widow
and devoted mother. She fails to do Salma’s mending and is out shopping for
high-heeled shoes when her uncle turns up from the country to make his
monthly visit. Eventually the two halves of her life clash when Folla turns up
at her apartment and reveals the truth to Lilia’s sanctimonious neighbour (who
has come round to warn Lilia that she thinks Salma is smoking). Life is complicated too for Salma, who is having an affair with the drummer Chokri and –
unaware of the change in Lilia’s life – is scared of her respectable mother finding
out. This central portion of the film intercuts between them, giving the film its
rhythm and onward drive. Lilia’s life gets even more complicated when Chokri
declares his interest in her and saves her from the attentions of an importunate
customer. Lilia’s immediate response is to plunge back into housework, but
back at the cabaret, she flirts outrageously with Chokri during her dance. They
make love that night in the bed we had last seen occupied by her daughter and
now it is Lilia who creeps home like a guilty adolescent. Woken by the phone,
it is Salma to say she wants to introduce her to her boy friend, the drummer
from the dancing class. At their next meeting Chokri, still unaware of Lilia’s
true identity, breaks it off with Lilia when he comes home to find her in his bed.
The last two scenes show an almost regal Lilia greeting Salma and her future
son-in-law Chokri, full of the confidence her secret life has given her, and then
dancing, in red satin, at their wedding.
The narrative of Satin Rouge is beautifully shaped, moving easily between its
two worlds and its two generations, and with the constant leitmotif of the dance
in all its social forms – as private self-contemplation, adolescent amusement,
cabaret turn and as a key to the celebration of marriage. The parallels, contrasts
and dramatic ironies are well worked out, and the pace maintained through the
intercutting of the various segments is admirable. The use of music by Nawfel
El Manaa in the dance scenes is exhilarating, and elsewhere it is used quietly
but to great effect. This is indeed a striking feature debut and one that goes
outside the normal parameters of the Maghrebian film.
One important difference between Maghrebian filmmaking and cinema in
the West is the development (or non-development) of the characters during the
course of the narrative. In any cinema built on the Hollywood model, the
notion of freewill is crucial, and the characters are constantly required to make
choices and to act on them, whatever the risk. Hence Hollywood-style characters change and develop in the course of the narrative. When Kevin Dwyer, in
his excellent series of interviews with Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi, explored
why this never seems to happen in Maghrebian filmmaking, the Moroccan
director’s response was fascinating:
Perhaps part of the explanation may have something to do with Islam,
because we may be guided by a certain notion of the predetermined fate
of the person, the idea that people have a destiny traced for them, that they
aren’t in control of their future but that this is controlled by the Creator.12
Whatever her religious beliefs, Amari has created in Lilia a character who functions on Western lines and therefore has room to develop, The difference
between the housewifely Lilia at the film’s opening and the splendidly selfassured Lilia at the end could not be more striking. In a sense she drifts into her
dancing at the cabaret, but before she embarks on her affair with Chokri, there
is the classic close-up of her face – the moment of decision. In true Western
fashion, the end is one that she alone constructs. Having defied society, she now
puts things back together, though from a very different standpoint from that
which she occupied at the beginning. In a context where social realist filmmaking has been the dominant tradition for some fifty years, Amari’s refusal to
offer any sort of social analysis also makes her stand out from most
Maghrebian cinema. Her explanation – ‘I’ve minimised to the maximum the
social setting in order to concentrate on the story of a character evolving in a
modern-day and very real Tunisia, which there are stories can also have a universal dimension’13 – is only partly satisfying. The empty night-time streets
along which Lilia is able to pass without harassment do not ring wholly true,
and the outside figures representing social pressures – the uncle and the censorious neighbour – lack their expected weight and authority.
Amari had doubts about how the (very European-style) love scenes would be
received: ‘In an Arab context, these scenes will probably shock certain people,
because you don’t show “those sorts of things” in such an explicit way in the
cinema’. Certainly they are the kind of scenes that the young filmmakers living
in France (such as the Moroccan Nabil Ayouch) are increasingly creating in
their films and ones that, within the context of French filmmaking, are by no
means remarkable or excessive. But what caused the real scandal surrounding
the film is Lilia herself. She does not fit the social stereotypes of the older
woman as victim or upholder of tradition. She is depicted as a widow with
strong sexual feelings and desires for which she seeks a real outlet with a much
younger man. Unlike the heroines of those Egyptian musicals of the 1940s and
1950s which Amari so admires, Lilia actually transgresses and instead of being
punished, as women who act outside male guidance always are in Arab cinema,
she is shown flaunting herself before her respectable wedding guests almost as
brazenly as in the cabaret. Shocking indeed for the respectable middle-classes
who make up the bulk of the audience for Tunisian cinema in Tunisia.
1. Raja Amari, interview in www.indiewire – internet publication (2004).
2. Ibid.
3. Tahar Chikhaoui, ‘Maghreb: De l’épopée au regard intime’, in Jean-Michel Frodon
(ed.), Au Sud du Cinéma (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma/Arte Editions, 2004), pp. 35–6.
4. Raja Amari, indiewire interview.
5. See Abdelkrim Gabbous, Silence, elles tournent!: Les femmes et le cinéma en Tunisie
(Tunis: Cérès Editions/CREDIF, 1998), pp. 43–61.
6. Raja Amari, cited in Nancy Ramsey, ‘An Initiate in the Night Rhythms of Tunis’,
The New York Times (New York, 25 August 2002), 2, p. 2.
7. Ferid Boughedir, ‘Le Cinéma tunisien avant La Trace: une thématique féministe’, in
Gabbous, Silence, pp. 174–5.
8. Ibid., p. 175.
9. Raja Amari, interview in the press book for Satin Rouge, n.p.
10. Ibid.
11. Karin van Nieuwkerk, ‘A Trade Like Any Other’: Female Singers and Dancers in
Egypt (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), p. 182.
12. Kevin Dwyer, Beyond Casablanca: M. A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan
Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 181.
13. Raja Amari, press book interview, n.p.
I would like us to be considered as filmmakers who bring a certain
gaze to bear upon the world . . . When you see the films of certain filmmakers, you don’t ask yourself questions about their nationality, you are
experiencing the universality of cinema: I hope that our films can achieve
Faouzi Bensaidi1
Faouzi Bensaidi was born in 1967 in Meknès and, after completing his diploma
studies of acting at ISADAC in Rabat, he spent a further period of drama study
in Paris from 1990 onwards, first at the Institut d’Etudes Théatrales at the
University of Paris III and then at CNSAD. He also did courses in various aspects
of filmmaking at FEMIS in 1995. His long academic training allows him to be
unusually articulate about the choices he makes when filming and the nature of
his own mise-en-scène. But he also has wide practical and professional experience, having worked extensively in theatre in Morocco as both actor and director. On screen, he has had important roles in Nabil Ayouch’s Mektoub (1997),
Jillali Ferhati’s Braids/Tresses (1999) and Daoud Aoulad Syad’s The Wind
Horse/Le Cheval de vent (2001). In addition, he has worked as co-writer and
actor on the French director André Téchiné’s feature Far Away/Loin (2001),
a story of drug trafficking which was shot in Morocco. Bensaidi is very much a
product of the Moroccan government’s project to support younger filmmakers.
He has received CCM support for all his personal projects, and he completed
the stipulated three shorts before beginning his first feature. He began his filmmaking career in 1998 with an eighteen-minute fictional piece, The Cliff/La
Falaise, which was followed by two further shorts, Journeys/Trajets (1999) and
The Wall/Le Mur (2000). His first feature, A Thousand Months/Mille mois, was
shown in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2003,
winning the award for most promising newcomer.
A key element of Bensaidi’s style is his particular approach to the camera. He
chooses ‘lengthy fixed takes, long shots in which the distance from the subject
is important, a sort of “powerless gaze” contemplating what happens to the
characters’.2 The rhythm is created by ‘the movement of bodies in a limited
space and a precise frame. The appearance, encounters and disappearance of
figures in this space are as important as a musical note in a score’.3 What does
not appear on the screen is as important as what does and Bensaidi’s films
demand an active spectator whose ‘intelligence and imagination are constantly
addressed’.4 All this is already apparent in The Cliff, a black-and-white fictional
story, with no commentary and virtually no dialogue, which has won more
international prizes than any other Moroccan film. The film chronicles a day in
the life of two boys, Hakim and his younger brother Said, who scavenge for
empty bottles on the beach and sell them to a blind alcohol vendor. When
Hakim tries to cheat him, he is chased, caught and loses his meagre hoard of
money. A group of drunken bikers spotted on the beach from a clifftop offers
the prospect of good pickings and Hakim steals a sack in readiness. But the
bikers use their empty bottles for target practice, smashing them with stones
from the beach, and Hakim is left mortified.
Of particular interest here is the extreme use of depth and distance, with the
camera regularly looking down on the action from a considerable height.
Bensaidi likes ‘working with the “off-screen”: what happens not at the centre
of the image but in the periphery, in the margins’.5 Here the elements shown
close-up in the foreground – a passing funeral, a gesticulating drunk, a moving
lorry – are less important than the figures in the extreme background, the boys’
powerlessness emphasised by their tiny image on the screen. Bensaidi also likes
‘not following the character’, but lets him ‘leave and re-enter the frame’. In The
Cliff, shots begin well before a character enters and are held long after characters have exited the frame. The slow pace of such scenes is offset by the precisely chosen camera angles and crisp cutting of the chase scenes, together with
the occasional use of exaggerated close-up. In typical Bensaidi fashion, the film
ends not with the boys’ reunion after the difficult incidents of the day, but with
the tiny figure of Said trudging presumably towards his desolate elder brother.
Alternative ways of seeing are always of interest to Bensaidi, and here there is
a long-held shot of distant waves distorted when seen though the bottom of
a bottle Hakim has just found in the sea.
Asked about his multiple career on stage and screen, Bensaidi has spoken of
his admiration for directors who ‘direct, draw, produce opera . . . a multitude
of activities’ and he has mentioned Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola as
among those who have influenced him.6 Until Mille mois he had kept acting
and directing separate in his theatre and film work. Though he was drawn to
give himself roles to play on stage and parts in his own short films, he resisted
the temptation. But in Mille mois he takes a small but important role, because
he ‘wanted to try an experiment’, to see if he ‘could be at ease, and if switching between being in front of and then behind the camera would harm the
film’.7 The decision was no doubt helped by the fact that his scenes were played
opposite his wife of ten years standing, Nezha Rahil. He has always like to mix
professional and non-professional actors in his films and, in Mille mois, he uses
the inhabitants of the village where the film was shot, finding that this is both
‘stimulating for everyone’ and also lends ‘a certain accuracy’.8 But while he
enjoys acting, ‘the vital necessity of directing is the fact that it allows me to
create worlds’.9
The world of Mille mois is precisely set in time: in 1981 and at the start of the
month of Ramadan, during which all Muslims are obliged to fast. Despite the
precision of this choice of 1981, Bensaidi has no desire to confront history
head-on: ‘even if the period was one of great social confrontations, there are no
demonstrations, strikes or riots in the film’.10 Instead, Bensaidi is interested in
an ‘intimate’ form of history, ‘its traces and after-effects on the lives of people
who do not see it occurring, because they are caught up in a present where no
holds are barred in the fight to survive’.11 Equally, though religion plays an
important role in the film, Bensaidi is not concerned to express his own particular beliefs about Islam, but ‘to grasp its place in the daily lives of the characters, the formation of their personality and their relationship with the world’.12
He chose Ramadan as the film’s setting because it allowed him ‘to place the film
in a time and place of social ritual which occurs in a natural way’, allowing him
‘to show how the protagonists live their relation with it’.13 Within Ramadan,
the Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power), is of particular importance, being the very
night on which the first revelations came to the Prophet.
Mille mois applies the approach explored in The Cliff to a two-hour narrative, and the result is a complex film which simultaneously excites and frustrates the spectator. There is a mass of fascinating individual detail and lots of
tiny moments of comedy to draw in the spectator, though the overall narrative
is bleak and unrelenting. But the choice of a strictly chronological unfolding of
the plot and the wide spread of characters included means that the spectator
has to hold a myriad of stories simultaneously in mind, constantly switching
from one to another, with no clear indication of what is important and what is
not. This is a deliberate strategy by Bensaidi who defines his stylistic approach
as ‘polyphonic’. From the start he attempts
to lure the audience along a path that seems to be marked out and reassuring, only to make them lose it instantly. The centre keeps shifting and
what seems to be the margin becomes the magnet that attracts all the rest
to it, only to disappear, replaced by other peripheral elements. This disappearance of the centre allows us to approach each character and each
sequence with the same intensity.14
As a result of this approach, key moments are underplayed, either because they
are omitted from the on-screen narrative or because they are shot in such
remote long-shot that their impact is diffused.
A further difficulty for the spectator is the fragmentary nature of the information we are given in any particular scene, which results in the spectator
having to wait for considerable periods of time before getting the information
needed to fill in the gaps and to understand fully how the scenes cohere and
how precisely the plot is unfolding. Bensaidi has said that he likes a cinema on
several levels, ‘a film being something you can rediscover at a second viewing,
with what you hadn’t seen first time’.15 Certainly this is true of Mille mois, and
the film’s opening sets the pattern for the unfolding two-hour narrative. It
begins with a couple of little mysteries for the spectator. The first is why are all
the villagers standing on the hillside watching the sky? This is swiftly resolved
when a title tells us that this is Ramadan, the beginning of which is marked by
the first sight of the waxing moon For an answer to the second question – why
is seven-year-old Mehdi carrying a chair around all the time? – we have to wait
about ten minutes, when we learn that it is Mehdi’s honour and privilege to be
in charge of his schoolteacher’s chair.
Bensaidi has admitted to ‘liking to play with the spectator at the level of
form’ and ‘keeping the audience’s participation in this way and not giving him
everything on a plate from the start’.16 But this is only the beginning of the
problems which the film sets the spectator, since there is no way of knowing
at this point of revelation, for example, the importance the chair is to play as
a leitmotif running through the whole unfolding narrative. In fact, the film
could easily have been entitled ‘The Chair’, on the lines of The Cliff and The
Wall. The chair is the means by which his fellow pupils get their own back on
Mehdi, by getting him blamed for negligence by distracting him and knocking a nail into it. But the chair’s story does not end here. To buy new clothes
for Mehdi to wear on Laylat al-Qadr, Mehdi’s grandfather (who has already
sold all his own furniture to make ends meet) steals the chair and sells it. As
a result, the teacher refuses to teach, proclaiming that ‘a teacher without a
Figure 13.1
Faouzi Bensaidi: Mille Mois (A Thousand Months)
chair is not a teacher’ and forcing the community to buy him a replacement.
The chair turns up again among the hired furniture at the wedding of the local
caïd (or district administrator), is recognised by the teacher and almost leads
to the grandfather’s exposure and punishment as a thief by a mob of villagers.
While the chair itself is part of the film’s final conflagration, the discovery of
the theft drives the grandfather to leave his village with Amina (Mehdi’s
mother) and Mehdi in the film’s final shots. The differing roles played by the
chair as the story progresses are paralleled by the shifting perceptions we have
Figure 13.2
Faouzi Bensaidi: Mille Mois (A Thousand Months)
of the various characters as new layers of information about them are given
to us.
Despite Bensaidi’s claims of a ‘polyphonic’ narrative, the key to the understanding of the film is Mehdi. Though the story is not shown through Mehdi’s
eyes, it is his level of perception (or failure to perceive) which shapes the whole
of Mille mois. Because of the temporal compression of the narrative into just a
week or two, there is no space for Mehdi to develop: he is exactly the same
seven-year-old at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. He does what
little boys do: tells stories when he has lost his satchel, beats up a small boy who
annoys him, wants to pee when out walking with his mother. As the teacher’s
pet he is given his ‘first lesson in being a teacher’ when he is made to cane other
boys. The boys in the class beat him up in turn, though the effect of this is
defused by being filmed in extreme long-shot. Key things happen in his immediate family circle (his friend Malika tells him the truth about his father’s
imprisonment before she dies, his grandfather becomes a thief, his mother is
tempted by the thought of a new husband), but he can comprehend none of this
and therefore it does not affect him. The film mirrors his level of perception, in
that moments of real adult emotion and understanding are underplayed or
elided altogether, and we are left with a flattened-out narrative, where carrying
a chair and losing a friend, failing to make one’s first fast and thinking you can
see France in a sweet wrapper are events on the same level.
Amina, Mehdi’s mother, has the typical Maghrebian role of female victim,
with her husband in prison without trial for almost a year and little money to
live on, despite working as a servant for the caïd. When she wants to go back
to live with her mother in Casablanca, her father-in-law makes it clear she will
not be able to take Mehdi with her. Refused permission to see her husband,
she raises her voice in protest, only to be accused of insulting the state and
beaten by the police. Bensaidi’s handling of this incident is typical of how key
actions occur off-screen in his films. We see only the grandfather on his knees
begging for her to be spared as she is dragged off. Next a shot of the family
travelling home in silence (shot from outside the taxi) and then the mother
silent at home, bathing her wounds. No word is said about what has happened.
Bensaidi relies on the gestures of the grandfather and the mother to tell all that
needs to be said.
Later, raising money to live on by selling her wedding ring, Amina is
promptly robbed of it all by rapacious beggars in a scene worthy of Buñuel at
his best. The scenes between Amina and Samir (played by Bensaidi), in which
the possibility of a new life seems to offer itself, are abortive, but beautifully
played by the couple. The grandfather too is a victim, penniless after his land
has been confiscated by the state, forced to sell his furniture and eventually to
steal in order to survive. The domestic scenes between him and Amina, when
each knows the other’s deepest secret, are also sensitively handled.
We get only fragmentary pictures of the other characters. We are introduced
to Mehdi’s friend, Malika, the liberated student daughter of the caïd who is the
only character to show any interest in politics and popular dissent and who dies
(we eventually discover) in a car crash. The handling of this scene too shows
the characteristic Bensaidi approach. When Amina arrives for work at the caïd’s
house, there is commotion – Malika has not returned home. As his mother
works, Mehdi wanders through the empty house, going into Malika’s room.
There is a straight cut to Mehdi’s mother hanging sheets over mirrors and pictures, and the house is now full of silent weeping women. Like Mehdi, we see
from a distance Malika’s body being prepared for washing, then a door is shut
to block off our view as well as his. We see no more of the family, whose grief
and mourning are never shown.
We only gradually piece together the story of Hocine, one of those marginal
characters for whom Bensaidi has such affection. He is first seen in a Christlike pose carrying water to his fields. It eventually transpires that he killed his
wife on his return from the war, and is now building his own mosque as an
act of atonement. When he commits suicide, it is implied (but not explicitly
stated) that he is taking on himself the sins of the community. Compared to
Hocine, the other characters are merely sketched in: Marzuk, the authoritarian
school-teacher (and would-be poet) who is hopelessly in love with Mehdi’s
neighbour, Saadia; the beautiful seventeen-year-old Saadia herself, a ‘good girl’
despite her many suitors; the local electrician, Abdelhadi, also in love with
Saadia, who amuses himself by regularly cutting the power to the village television and who triggers the final conflagration at the new caïd’s wedding, and
the new caïd, whose wedding; celebration brings out all the simmering tensions
in the village and ends with him trying to shoot his own brother, while the
wedding tent burns out of control.
Bensaidi’s own comments on his approach help to clarify why this is a key
film among the millennium generation’s explorations of new narrative structures. He states that, ‘it’s a film about looking, about what you see and what
you don’t . . . The question is knowing what you allow people to see or not.
I ask myself this question about cinema: what do I show?’17 What he chooses
to show are the details of life and behaviour, striking little incidents which are
often comic moments in the overall bleak description of Morocco in 1981. He
leaves to his audiences the task of fitting together the pieces of the mosaic,
giving each piece its appropriate weight. Mille mois is a remarkable work, and,
in considering Bensaidi’s style, one can only echo Lindley Hanlon’s verdict on
Robert Bresson:
His modernism can first and foremost be located in his severe reduction
of narrative form in film . . . He has started from degree zero and reinvented a cinematic language with only those elements absolutely necessary for the movement of the narrative in his particular style.18
This is not in any way to imply either that Bensaidi’s work is derivative or that
he will eventually create a body of work to equal Bresson’s. But it does point to
a first feature that has an austerity and authority rare in modern filmmaking.
1. Faouzi Bensaidi, interview in www.africultures – internet publication (May 2003).
2. Faouzi Bensaidi, unsourced interview cited in the National Film Theatre programme (London, July 2004).
3. Ibid.
4. Faouzi Bensaidi, africultures interview.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Faouzi Bensaidi, NFT interview.
8. Ibid.
9. Faouzi Bensaidi, africultures interview.
10. Ibid.
11. Faouzi Bensaidi, NFT interview
12. Ibid.
13. Faouzi Bensaidi, africultures interview.
14. Faouzi Bensaidi, NFT interview.
15. Faouzi Bensaidi, africultures interview.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Lindley Hanlon, Fragments: Bresson’s Film Style (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 1986), p. 20.
The cinema is a gaze which has its source in the personality of each of us.
A personality forged by our lives, our education, our trajectory . . . I am
a filmmaker and I have never left my continent, because I carry it within me.
Abderrahmane Sissako1
Born in Kiffa, Mauritania in 1961, brought up in Mali, trained at the VGIK film
school in Moscow thanks to a Soviet bursary, and resident in Paris since the early
1990s, Sissako is the archetypal filmmaker as exile. He is very much the product
of the European exile that foreign film school training entails. Though he tells
us he read the militant theorists Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire when he was
young (quoting the latter in the commentary of Life on Earth/La Vie sur terre),
his film tastes are very Westernised. Asked about the films that have influenced
him, he cites not his African forerunners, but Fellini’s La Strada, Tarkovsky’s
Ivan’s Childhood and Andrei Rublev, Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul and
Antonioni’s The Passenger.2 Sissako’s notion of African cinema also differs radically from that of the pioneers of the 1960s, for whom the notion of truly
African voices in cinema was so important. Talking to an interviewer in 1995,
Sissako said:
If there are a lot of African filmmakers, there will be a lot of African
images made by African filmmakers, but I don’t think that that should be
a priority in itself. I believe that life, the image, the continent belongs to
everyone . . . It is good that Africans make films here that they feel
strongly about, that Europeans come here to make films that they feel
strongly about too.3
The difference between Sissako’s approach and that of the pioneers was very
clear too when he admitted to an interviewer that what interests him in cinema
is ‘poetry, but not necessarily revolutionary poetry’.4
Sissako regards with equanimity his personal situation as a half-forced, halfvoluntary exile and never dwells simply on the disadvantages. His attitude is
more fundamentally ambiguous: ‘I share this fate with many people who will
always remain anonymous. I’ve lived in different continents and consider
myself both rich and poor as a result’.5 Sissako’s Life on Earth begins with the
questioning words of a letter to his father: ‘Is what I am learning far from you
worth what I am forgetting about us?’ and, throughout his career, Sissako has
been a filmmaker who uses his own situation and experience as the basis of his
work, with each stage being ‘a sort of autobiography’: ‘For me cinema is above
all a search for yourself. It’s through cinema that I attempt to construct myself,
as others do through writing or painting or even making shoes.’6 This use of his
own experience is very conscious: ‘Autobiography is a pretext which gives me
considerable freedom’.7
His graduation film at the Moscow film school (VGIK) was The Game
(1988), which intercuts the stories of a little boy Ahmed, who plays war games
from which his mother can rescue him, and his father, a real-life soldier sent
on a spying mission and summarily executed. The film ends with a quotation
from Paul Valéry: ‘War is a massacre by people who do not know each other,
profiting people who do know each other but never massacre each other’.
Sissako subsequently made a trio of very varied short films. October (1993),
shot in Moscow, traced the separation of a pregnant Russian girl and her
African lover, who is leaving Russia to return home. The Camel and the
Floating Sticks/Le Chameau et les bâtons flottants (1995) was a six-minute
adaptation of a La Fontaine fable made for a French television series. The
twenty-six-minute Sabriya (1997), by contrast, was shot in Tunisia and
forms part of the international television series ‘Africa Dreaming’. A study
of erotic obsession, it tells of the story of two young men, Saïd and Youssef,
who are locked in a close physical and emotional friendship and spend
their time endlessly playing chess in a café on an isolated beach. One day
Youssef meets a mysterious Westernised woman, Sarah, on a train and
neglects his friend to follow and spy on her as she poses seductively in a mini
skirt, a swimsuit and a clinging wet dress. When the disgusted Saïd leaves, he
too meets another mysterious woman, who strangely resembles the first, on
the same train.
Sissako’s later longer works show a development from personal documentary to autobiographical fiction. The hour-long video Rostov-Luanda (1997),
accompanied by a French-language commentary spoken by Sissako himself,
traces his search in Angola for an old friend, Alfonso Baribanga, an ex-freedom
fighter with whom he had studied Russian in Rostov. Armed only with a seventeen-year-old group portrait taken in Russia, Sissako explores Luanda and
the surrounding towns and villages in search of his friend. He encounters a
ruined, war-torn culture and meets a range of ordinary people with variously
broken lives: drinkers and drivers, elderly married couples, musicians and
orphans. The film remains on this level of individual encounter and there is no
attempt to explain the historical situation or to offer a coherent picture of
Angola’s present-day politics or future prospects. As Sissako has said, ‘What
interests me in people is their present state, the moment when I’m face to face
with someone’.8 The picture that emerges from this series of sympathetic and
often humorous interviews is one of hope and faith in the human spirit, together
with nostalgia for a lost world of firm belief. Only on his very last day in
Luanda does Sissako meet people who actually know Baribanga and can give
him his current address, in Berlin. Talking about his first post-film-school film,
Sissako has said, ‘I like telling the story of everything which doesn’t really
happen: meetings which don’t occur, as in October, impossible love, everything
which is spoilt by a second’s delay.9 This is borne out by Rostov-Luanda. When
Sissako makes his final journey to Berlin and actually finds his friend, we do
not see the meeting nor get a clear view of Baribanga himself. Instead, the film
ends abruptly, with Baribanga just a voice-off answering the doorbell and
a figure briefly glimpsed in long-shot at an upstairs window.
The short sixty-minute feature that established Sissako as a leading figure in
African cinema was made as part of a ten-episode international series aiming
to show the impact of the new millennium on people throughout the world. But
Sissako’s film, set in the Malian village of Sokolo where his father was born,
actually does nothing of the sort, since this is a world where time has no
meaning. This is a paradoxical film, as remarkable for what it omits – interviews, conversations, meals, domestic interior scenes, work and a clear
sequence of passing days – as for what it contains. Hajer Bouden captures its
place in Sissako’s work and its particular tone very well, defining it as, ‘a succession of images, situations, phrases and sounds unfolding in his head, like a
dream provoked by the desire to rediscover a place and developing at the whim
of the feelings experienced’.10 In place of a defined succession of the days
making up the visit to Sokolo (four weeks of shooting in total), we have a
pattern of extreme fragmentation, juxtaposition, repetition and symmetry.
The film’s opening six shots – showing Sissako in a Paris store or at the airport
buying, of all things, a cuddly white polar bear – are set against the sequences
shot in Sokolo. The film proper begins with Sissako’s letter to his father,
announcing his impending visit and his wish to film there. It mentions an earlier
communication sent via a friend returning to Sokolo. At the end of the film,
Sissako himself will likewise carry to Paris a letter from a Sokolo inhabitant to
his brother in exile. Though the ostensible reason for Sissako’s visit is to meet
his father again, the two are seen together in only three shots: two parallel
panning shots (first from Sissako to his father, and then from his father to
Sissako) placed near the beginning and the end of the film, and a long-held shot
of them walking in long-shot through the fields. We hear none of the words they
exchange; indeed, since Sissako never indulges in real conversation, the only
verbal indications of Sissako’s feelings are in his voice-over comments, many of
which are quotations from Césaire’s poems and political writings. The real
richness of the soundtrack is the music: Salif Keïta’s song ‘Folon’ (heard at his
arrival and when he is with his father in the fields at the end) and a number of
lyrical pieces by Anouar Braham. Significantly, the only indication of the
coming of the millennium is the overheard sound of French radio programmes
(including an interview with a correspondent in Japan).
We see a range of activities in Sokolo to which the film returns: broadcasting
by the local radio station (‘Radio Colon – La Voix du riz’), the local post office,
where people – including Sissako himself – are continually attempting (with
very little regular success) to make contact with outsiders, and the booth of the
local photographer set up on the village square. A number of anonymous
passers-by are also seen several times: a man on a motorbike, a lone boy kicking
a football through the streets, customers for the village photographer. These
repetitive actions and gestures give the film its sense of timelessness and, ironically, the only real progression of successive shots in the film depicts a group
of the idle young men of the village who are seen initially sprawled out in the
shade but who are subsequently constantly driven back towards the shelter of
a wall. It is only when there is no longer any shade, even when they are standing pressed against the wall, that they give up – to a brief flourish from a
Schubert quintet (the only Western music in the film).
The only named character in the film, apart from Drahmane (Sissako
himself), is a young girl, Nana, whom the filmmaker meets during the initial
stage of his incessant cycling back and forth through the village (in traditional
garb completed with a woven straw hat). She chats with him when they meet,
indicating that she is from a neighbouring village, Kourouma, but subsequently,
though they both continually cycle to and fro, they always just fail to meet.
Nana meanwhile visits the village tailor, tries to make a phone call and has her
photograph taken on the square. In this sense she is a potential source of narrative, but Sissako preferred her to keep her reticence, because he sensed that
Figure 14.1
Abderrahmane Sissako: La Vie sur Terre (Life on Earth)
she ‘had something secret, that she was more than her very apparent beauty’:
‘I wanted to construct a whole mystery about her and make people understand
that she shouldn’t be seen as just a pretty hair-do and a beautiful smile’.11 For
this reason he did not invent a story for her, show her falling in love, or whatever: ‘What is hidden in people, that’s what is the most magnificent and
strongest’.12 La Vie sur terre bears this out.
After La Vie sur terre, which was made in his father’s village of Sokolo in Mali,
Sissako felt the need to make a film about his relationship with his mother, to
Figure 14.2
Abderrahmane Sissako: Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness)
whom the new film is dedicated and who died on the last day of the film’s shooting. The film is also a return to Mauritania, emanating, he says, ‘from an
anxiety which I have always had about speaking about Mauritania, my
country, which I have always missed. Going back there to make a film was an
essential and necessary intimate act’.13
Sissako is not interested in pre-scripted filmmaking. He claims that for Life
on Earth he brought to Arte just two pages (one of which was the letter to his
father with which the film opens).14 For Heremakono, also known as Waiting
for Happiness, he had a synopsis of about forty pages, but the film was essentially improvised with the non-professional actors whom he met in
Nouadhibou, who played versions of themselves in the film and provided much
of the dialogue.15 His working method was to bring a mass of people into his
film ‘by inviting them to tell their own stories as well’. The film was the happy
Figure 14.3
Abderrahmane Sissako: Heremakono (Waiting for Happiness)
result of these encounters: ‘I admit I was very lucky with them, they were extraordinary. I had confidence in them and they in me’.16
Heremakono is Sissako’s most elusive film, a narrative (like Haroun’s Bye
Bye Africa) from which all the normal signposts have been removed, and where
the boundaries between actuality and pure fiction are not immediately apparent. The film begins in typical enigmatic fashion with a man (whom we later
learn is Makan) burying his radio (carefully wrapped) in the sand and striding
off into the desert. After the title credit, Makan is seen searching for the radio
which is now missing. No explanation is given for either the burial or the loss,
and instead the film cuts to a stationary taxi with a loaded roof-rack and an
open bonnet. It has broken down and the passengers are sheltering in the shade.
Eventually the taxi recommences its journey, taking a disparate band of men
through an anonymous border crossing. One of these passengers is the film’s
protagonist, but at this stage there is nothing to distinguish him from the others,
nor any way of identifying the place at which the car stops. In fact, he is the
seventeen-year-old Abdallah, who has come back to say goodbye to his mother
before going abroad, and the fishing village at which they have stopped is
Nouadhibou, on the Mauritanian coast. In typical Sissako fashion, we do not
see the meeting of mother and son, and our first view of the two of them
together is when she rebukes him for smoking.
Sissako has said that ‘exile precedes the departure. We make true exile within
ourselves even before we depart. It’s a sort of interior exile, which isn’t just
limited to Africans’.17 This is certainly true of Abdallah, who is already in a sort
of exile in Nouadhibou, since he does not speak the local dialect, Hassanye,
does not wear the local traditional dress, and hardly ever goes out. Twice he
goes to visit people who are presumably relatives. The first time there is no-one
to greet him, though the television is switched on to show him a French TV quiz
show, ‘the intrusion of a false civilisation in a place of authentic living’, as
Sissako put it.18 On his second visit, this time in traditional dress, he finds that
the material he has chosen is identical to that of the refurbished curtains and
drapes in the room (one of the film’s many little understated gags). Visits to
other relatives find him first caught up in a curious flirting ritual between men
and women who sit opposite each other in the room and then, on the second
occasion, being openly mocked by a gathering of women for his inability to
speak the local language.
Abdallah, we learn, still lacks a passport and his linguistic problems are
exploited by a little boy, Khatra, who deliberately jumbles words when ostensibly teaching him the local language. Sissako has said that Khatra’s role grew
during the shooting because the child ‘imposed himself on the film because he
wanted to act, so I was there to follow him. All the time I found him in front
of the camera, because he wanted to be filmed as much as possible’.19 In the film
that finally emerged, Khatra provides much of the humour which Sissako finds
so essential, particularly in his role as assistant to Maata, the ex-sailor and
would-be electrician who never seems able to get a light-fitting to work.
The scenes in which Abdallah appears are intercut with scenes which, if we
are to believe Sissako, feature people he encountered in Nouadhibou. Among
these are an old woman, a real-life griotte, who is teaching her not very talented
granddaughter to sing, and a Japanese man, who always seems to be giving away,
rather than selling, the objects from his sample case. He also indulges his passion
for karaoke at home in front of an audience of one. Abdallah also encounters
Nana, whose story of how she visited Europe to tell her ex-lover Vincent that
their daughter was dead, is accorded the only flashback sequence in the film, but
seems fictitious. Another fictional story features the local photographer’s studio,
where Michael, who is going away, has himself photographed in turn with each
of his friends, including Makan. Two weeks later, Makan reckons he must
already be in Spain, but the truth is very different, since Michael’s body is washed
up on the beach, the photos still intact in a waterproof pouch.
The same pattern continues throughout the second half of the film. Nana
receives a male visitor, the grandmother continues her teaching, Khatra peels
the metal strip out of a banknote and loses it in the wind. Meanwhile, Abdallah
sits at his ground-level window, watching feet go by, is woken by the sounds of
the women of the village clapping and dancing at a party of some kind, and
spends a night with Nana. Maata takes two unexplained trips with a light to
the sea, the first with Khatra, the second alone. He dies on the second trip. The
taxi is seen in operation again, with a new group of men intent on crossing
borders, while Abdallah begins to make his preparations for departure. Khatra
throws a lightbulb out to sea and collects it when the waves return it to the
beach, but it works no better than any of the others. Abdallah sets off up the
hill, only to turn back and sit down at the foot of the dunes, alone with his suitcase. This is our last image of him, as the film ends with scenes featuring Khatra,
who shows off his kaleidoscope, breaks a streetlight with his catapult and
watches an overcrowded train depart. When he falls asleep, he dreams of a
kaleidoscope of lights all suddenly illuminated. Our last sight of Khatra (or is
it Abdallah?) is when a figure vanishes in extreme long-shot behind the dunes.
Though clearly a fiction, Heremakono is an intensely personal and lyrical
piece, held together by the strength of Sissako’s emotions rather than by any
sort of purely narrative logic. But because the film lacks the customary voiceover commentary by the director, these emotions always remain implicit, just
as the geographical locations are vague (it is only from publicity material that
we know this is Nouadhibou – Heremakono is merely the nearest town, which
the film never visits). Similarly, we never learn where Abdallah is coming from
or where he is bound for, though we assume it is Spain. With its exquisite photography and quirky sense of humour, Heremakono is compulsive viewing. But
it remains elusive, built not out of the grim realities of exile but through tentative allusions and fleeting emotional links. The title given to the film abroad
(Waiting for Happiness in English, En attendant le bonheur in French)
prompted one interviewer to ask Sissako for his definition of happiness. His
response captures perfectly the flavour of the film: ‘I think that happiness is in
anticipation. In the conduct of a day. In the little everyday details. And that’s
why there is this atmosphere of serenity in the film’.20
1. Abderrahmane Sissako, ‘Nous sommes riches de nos différences’, interview in
www.bulletin de la Guilde africaine des réalisateurs et producteurs 9 – internet publication (May 2003).
2. Abderrahmane Sissako, interview, Cinécrits 17 (Tunis, ATPCC, 1999), p. 47.
3. Melissa Thackway, Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan
Francophone African Film (London: James Currey, 2003), p. 199.
4. Abderrahmane Sissako, Cinécrits interview, p. 49.
5. Abderrahmane Sissako, interview, Qantara 46 (Paris, 2002), p. 29.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Abderrahmane Sissako, Cinécrits interview, p. 45.
9. Ibid., p. 52.
10. Hajer Bouden, ‘Sissako ou l’appareil circulatoire’, Cinécrits 17 (Tunis: ATPCC,
1999), p. 63.
Abderrahmane Sissako, Cinécrits interview, p. 51.
Ibid., p. 52.
Abderrahmane Sissako, Qantara interview, p. 29.
Abderrahmane Sissako, Cinécrits interview, p. 48.
Abderrahmane Sissako, Qantara interview, p. 29.
Africultures (from 1997). Paris: L’Harmattan.
Ahmida, Ali Abdullatif (ed.) (2000) Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the
Maghrib: History, Culture and Politics. New York: Palgrave.
Ait Hammou, Youssef (1996) Lecture de l’image cinématographique. Marrakesh: El
Alaoui, A. Mdarhri and Zeggaf, A. (ed.) (1994) L’Interculturel au Maroc. Casablanca:
Afrique Orient.
Allen, Roger, Kilpatrick, Hilary and de Moor, Ed (ed.) (1995) Love and Sexuality in
Modern Arabic Literature. London: Saqi Books.
Allouache, Merzak (1987). Omar Gatlato (script). Algiers: Cinémathèque Algérienne/
Editions LAPHOMIC.
Allouache, Merzak (1996) Salut Cousin! (script). Paris: L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma 457.
Amarger, Michel (2002) ‘Ruptures de l’espace identitaire’, Paris: Qantara 44,
pp. 22–5.
Amarger, Michel, Diop, M’Bissine and Ruelle, Catherine (2002) ‘Islam, croyances et
négritude dans les cinémas d’Afrique’. Paris: Africultures 47, pp. 5–67.
Amin, Samir (1970) The Maghreb in the Modern World. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Anderson, Benedict (1991, new edn) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin
and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso.
Andrade-Watkins, Claire (1992) ‘France’s Bureau of Cinema: Financial and Technical
Assistance between 1961 and 1977’. London: Framework 38–9, pp. 27–46.
Arab Cinema and Culture: Round Table Conferences (1965) 3 vols. Beirut: Arab Film
and Television Center.
Araib, Ahmed and de Hullessen, Eric (1999) Il était une fois . . . Le cinéma au Maroc.
Rabat: EDH.
Arasoughly, Alia (ed.) (1998) Screens of Life: Critical Film Writing from the Arab
World. Quebec: World Heritage Press.
Ardener, Shirley (ed.) (1981) Women and Space: Ground Rules and Social Maps.
London: Croom Helm.
Armbrust, Walter (1996) Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Armbrust, Walter (ed.) (2000) Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture
in the Middle East and Beyond. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Armes, Roy (1985) ‘Black African Cinema in the Eighties’. London: Screen 26: 3–4,
pp. 60–73 (page order displaced).
Armes, Roy (1987) Third World Film Making and the West. Berkeley: University of
California Press.
Armes, Roy (1994) ‘The Group as Protagonist: Ceddo’, in Roy Armes, Action and Image:
Dramatic Structure in Cinema. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 155–70.
Armes, Roy (1995) ‘Cinema’, in John Esposito (ed.) The Oxford Encyclopedia of the
Modern Islamic World. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 286–90.
Armes, Roy (1996) Dictionary of North African Film Makers/Dictionnaire des cinéastes
du Maghreb. Paris: Editions ATM.
Armes, Roy (1996) ‘The Arab World’, in Geoffrey Nowell-Smith The Oxford History
of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 661–7.
Armes, Roy (1998) Omar Gatlato. Trowbridge: Flicks Books.
Armes, Roy (2000) ‘Reinterpreting the Tunisian Past: Les Silences du palais’, in Kevin R.
Lacey and Ralph M. Coury The Arab-African and Islamic Worlds: Interdisciplinary
Studies. New York: Peter Lang, pp. 203–14.
Armes, Roy (2001) ‘Cinema in the Maghreb’, in Oliver Leaman, Companion
Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and African Film. London and New York: Routledge,
pp. 429–517.
Armes, Roy (2002) ‘History or Myth: Chronique des années de braise’, in Ida Kummer
(ed.) Cinema Maghrébin. Saratoga Springs: special issue of Celaan 1: 7–17.
Armes, Roy (2004) ‘Imag(in)ing Europe: The Theme of Emigration in North African
Cinema’, in Tudor Parfitt and Yulia Egorova (eds), Mediating the Other: Jews,
Christians, Muslims and the Media. London and New York: Routledge Curzon.
Armes, Roy (2005) Postcolonial Images: Studies in North African Film. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.
Awde, Nicholas and Samano, Putros (1986) The Arabic Language. London: Saqi Books.
Awed, Ibrahim M., Adam, Dr Hussein M. and Ngakane, Lionel (eds) (1983) First
Modadishu Pan African Film Symposium. Mogadishu: Mogpafis Management
Aziza, Mohamed (1977) Patrimonie culturel et création contemporaine en Afrique et le
monde arabe. Dakar: Les Nouvelles, Éditions Africaines.
Bachy, Victor (1978) Le Cinéma de Tunisie. Tunis: STD.
Bachy, Victor (1983, 2nd edn) La Haute Volta et le cinema. Brussels: OCIC.
Bachy, Victor (1983, 2nd edn) Le Cinéma en Côte d’Ivoire. Brussels: OCIC.
Bachy, Victor (1983, 2nd edn) Le Cinéma au Mali. Brussels: OCIC.
Bachy, Victor (1986) Le Cinéma au Gabon. Brussels: OCIC.
Bachy, Victor (1987) To Have a History of African Cinema. Brussels: OCIC.
Bakari, Umruh and Cham, Mbye (eds) (1996) African Experiences of Cinema. London:
Balogun, Françoise (1984) Le Cinéma au Nigéria. Paris: OCIC.
Barlet, Olivier (1998) ‘Cinémas d’Afrique noire: Le Nouveau malentendu’. Paris:
Cinémathèque 14, pp. 107–16.
Barlet, Olivier (2000) African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. London: Zed Books.
Barlet, Olivier (2001) ‘Les Nouvelles stratégies des cinéastes africains’. Paris:
Africultures 41, pp. 69–76.
Barrot, Pierre (ed.) (2005) Nollywood: Le Phénomène vidéo au Nigeria. Paris, Budapest
and Turin: L’Harmattan.
Bataille, Maurice-Robert and Claude Veillot (1956) Caméras sous le soleil: Le Cinéma
en Afrique du nord. Algiers.
Bazenguissa, Rémy and Nantet, Bernard (1995) L’Afrique: Mythes et Réalités d’un
Continent. Paris: Le Cherche Midi Editeur.
Beaugé, Gilbert and Clément, Jean-François (eds) (1995) L’Image dans le monde arabe.
Paris: CNRS Editions.
Béji, Hélé (1982) Désenchantement national: Essai sur la décolonisation. Paris: François
Maspero/Cahiers Libres 368.
Ben Aissa, Anouar (ed.) (1996) Tunisie: Trente ans de cinéma. Tunis: EDICOP.
Ben Aissa, Khelfa (1990) Tu vivras, Zinet!: Tahia ya Zinet!. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Benali, Abdelkader (1998) Le Cinéma colonial au Maghreb. Paris: Éditions du Cerf.
Ben el Haj, Bahri (1980) Une politique africaine du cinéma. Paris: Éditions Dadci.
Bensalah, Mohamed (2005) Cinéma en Méditerranée: Une passerelle entre les cultures.
Aix-en-Provence: Édisud.
Bensalem, Himmich (1997) Au pays de nos crises: Essai sur le mal marocain.
Casablanca: Afrique Orient.
Bensmaïa, Réda (2003) Experimental Nations:, Or, the Invention of the Maghreb.
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Bergmann, Kristina (1993) Filmkultur und Filmindustrie in Ägypten. Darmstadt:
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Bernstein, Matthew and Studlar, Gaylyn (eds) (1997) Visions of the East: Orientalism
in Film. London and New York: I. B. Tauris.
Berrah, Mouny, Bachy, Victor Salama, Mohand Ben and Boughedir, Ferid (eds) (1981)
Cinémas du Maghreb. Paris: CinémAction 14.
Berrah, Mouny, Lévy, Jacques and Cluny, Claude-Michel (eds) (1987) Les Cinémas
arabes. Paris: CinémAction 43/Cerf/IMA.
Biennale des cinémas arabes à Paris (from 1992) catalogues. Paris: Institut du Monde
Bjornson, Richard (1994) The African Quest for Freedom and Identity: Cameroonian
Writing and the National Experience. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Bossaerts, Marc and Van Geel, Catherine (eds) (1995) Cinéma d’en Francophonie.
Brussels: Solibel Édition.
Bosséno, Christian (1979) ‘Des maquis d’hier aux luttes d’aujourd’hui: Thématique du
cinéma algérien’. Paris: La Revue du cinéma – Image et son 340, pp. 27–52.
Bosséno Christian (1983) ‘Le Cinéma tunisien’. Paris: La Revue du cinéma 382, pp. 49–62.
Bosséno, Christian (ed.) (1985) Youssef Chahine l’alexandrien. Paris: CinémAction 34.
Boudjedra, Rachid (1971) Naissance du cinéma algérien. Paris: François Maspéro.
Boughedir, Ferid (1984) Le Cinéma en Afrique et dans le monde. Paris: Jeune Afrique
Boughedir, Ferid (1987) Le Cinéma africain de A à Z. Brussels: OCIC.
Boughedir, Ferid (1999) Halfaouine: L’enfant des terrasses (script). Paris: L’Avant-Scène
du Cinéma 483.
Boulanger, Pierre (1975) Le Cinéma colonial. Paris: Seghers.
Bouzid, Nouri (1994) Sources of Inspiration, Lecture: 22 June 1994, Villepreux.
Amsterdam: Sources.
Brahimi, Denise (1997) Cinémas d’Afrique francophone et du Maghreb. Paris: Nathan.
Brahimi, Denise (1997) ‘A propos de Tala ou L’Opium et le bâton du roman au film’.
Paris: Awal 15, p. 66.
Brossard, Jean-Pierre (ed.) (1981) L’Algérie vue par son cinéma. Locarno: Festival
International du Film de Locarno.
Brown, Stewart (ed.) (1995) The Pressures of the Text: Orality, Texts and the Telling of
Tales. Birmingham: Birmingham University Press.
Calvocoressi, Peter (1985) Independent Africa and the World. London and New York:
Cesca (1984) Camera nigra: Le Discours du film africain. Brussels: OCIC.
Chagnollaud, Jean-Paul (ed.) (2002) Sexualité et sociétés arabes. Paris: Confluences
Méditerranée. 41.
Chahine et le cinéma égyptien (1984). Montreal Dérives: 43.
Chamkhi, Sonia (2005) Cinéma tunisien nouveau. Tunis: Sud Éditions.
Chanan, Michael (ed.) (1983) Twenty-Five Years of the New Latin American Cinema.
London: BFI.
Châtillon, Georges and Lambert, Edwige (eds) (1982) Algérie. Paris: Autrement 38.
Chebel, Malek (1984) Le Corps dans la tradition au Maghreb. Paris: Presses
Universitaires de France.
Cherfi, Abdelmajid et al. (eds) (1998) Aspects de la civilisation tunisienne. Tunis: Faculté
de Lettres de Manouba.
Cheriaa, Tahar (1964) Cinéma et culture en Tunisie. Beirut: Unesco.
Cheriaa, Tahar (1979) Ecrans d’abondance . . . ou cinémas de libération en Afrique?.
Tunis: STD.
Chikhaoui, Tahar (ed.) (1998) Souleymane Cisse. Tunis: ATPCC/Cinécrits 16.
Chikaoui, Tahar (2002) ‘Le Cinéma tunisien des années 90: permanences et spécifités’.
Toulouse: Horizons Maghrébins 46, pp. 113–19.
Choukroun, Jacques and de La Bretèche, François (2004) Algérie d’hier et d’aujourd’hui. Perpignan: Institut Jean Vigo/Cahiers de la Cinémathèque 76.
Cinéma et libertés: Contribution au thème du Fespaco 93 (1993). Paris: Présence
Cinéma et monde musulman (2001). Paris: EurOrient 10.
Cinéma: Production cinématographique 1957–1973 (1974). Algiers: Ministère de
l’Information et de la Culture.
Cinémas de Africa (1995). Lisbon: Cinemeteca Portugesa/Culturgest.
Cinquante ans de courts métrages marocains 1947–1997 (1998). Rabat: CCM
Cisse, Soulemane (1998) Yeelen (script). Paris: L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma 476.
Clawson, Patrick (1981) ‘The Development of Capitalism in Egypt’. London:
Khamsin 9, pp. 77–116.
Clerc, Jeanne-Marie (1997) Assia Djebar: Ecrire, Transgresser, Résister. Paris and
Montreal: L’Harmattan.
Cluny, Claude-Michel (1978) Dictionnaire des nouveaux cinémas arabes. Paris:
Côte, Marc (1998) Le Maghreb. Paris: La Documentation Française.
Convents, Guido (1986) A la recherche des images oubliés. Brussels: OCIC.
Convents, Guido (2003) L’Afrique? Quel cinéma!: Un siècle de propagande coloniale et
de films africains. Antwerp: Editions EPO.
Cruise O’Brien, Donal B. (2003) Symbolic Confrontations: Muslims Imagining the State
in Africa. London: Hurst & Co.
Cruise O’Brien, Donal B., Dunn, John and Rathbone, Richard (eds) (1989) Contemporary
West African States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dadci, Younès (1970) Dialogues Algérie-Cinéma: Première histoire du cinéma algérien.
Paris: Editions Dadci.
Dadci, Younès (1980) Première histoire du cinéma algérien, 1896–1979. Paris: Editions
Dahane, Mohamed (ed.) (1995) Cinéma: Histoire et Société. Rabat: Publications de la
Faculté des Lettres.
Daoud, Zakya (1997) Marocains des deux rives. Paris: Les Éditeurs de l’Atelier/Éditions
Davidson, Basil (1966) The African Past. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Davidson, Basil (1973) The Africans: An Entry to Cultural History. Harmondsworth:
Davidson, Basil (1978) Africa in Modern History. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Davidson, Basil (1994, 3rd edn) Modern Africa: A Social and Political History. London
and New York: Longman.
Davidson, Basil (1994) The Search for Africa: A History in the Making. London: James
De Arabische Film (1979). Amsterdam: Cinemathema.
Despierre, P. -G. (ed.) (2004) Le Griot, le psychanalyste et le cinéma africain. Paris:
Dialmy, Abdessamad (1995) Logement, sexualité et Islam. Casablanca: Éditions EDDIF.
Dialmy, Abdessamad (1995) Sexualité et discours au Maroc. Casablanca: Afrique
Diawara, Manthia (1991) ‘African Cinema Today’. London: Framework 37, pp. 110–28.
Diawara, Manthia (1992) African Cinema: Politics and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press.
Dictionnaire du cinéma africain (1991). Paris: Karthala.
Dine, Philip (1994) ‘Thinking the Unthinkable: The Generation of Meaning in French
Literary and Cinema Images of the Algerian War’. London: The Maghreb Review 19:
1–2, pp. 123–32.
Diop, Papa Samba, Fuchs, Elisa, Hug, Heinz and Riesz, János (eds) (1994) Ousmane
Sembène und die senegalesche Erzählliteratur. Munich: Edition Text + Kritik.
Djebar, Assia (1999) Ces voix qui m’assiègent. Paris: Albin Michel.
Dossier: Spécial Cinémas d’Afrique (1991). Paris: CNC.
Dourari, Abderrezak (ed.) (2002) Cultures populaires et culture nationale en Algérie.
Paris: L’Harmattan.
Downing, John D. H. (ed.) (1987) Film and Politics in the Third World. New York:
Dwyer, Kevin (2002) ‘ “Hidden, Unsaid, Taboo” in Moroccan Cinema: Adelkader
Lagtaa’s Challenge to Authority’. Detroit: Framework 43: 2, pp. 117–33.
Dwyer, Kevin (2004) Beyond Casablanca: M. A. Tazi and the Adventure of Moroccan
Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Ebanda, De B’béri Boulou (ed.) (2000) Ecritures dans les cinémas d’Afrique noire.
Montreal: Cinémas.
Eke, Maureen N., Harrow, Kenneth W. and Yewah, Emmanuel (eds) (2000) African
Images: Recent Studies and Text in Cinema. Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa
World Press.
El Khodari, Khalid (2000) Guide des réalisateurs marocains. Rabat: El Maarif Al
El Saadawi, Nawal (1980) The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World. London:
Zed Books.
El Yamlahi, Sidi Mohamed (1997) Bachir Skiredj: Biographie d’un rire. Casablanca:
Najah el Jadida.
Espaces et sociétés du monde arabe (1989). Paris: Maghreb-Machrek 123.
Esposito, John (ed.) (1995) The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World.
New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Etoke, Nathalie (2003) ‘Karmen Gei: Une Censure à l’arme blanche’. Paris: L’Arbre à
Palabres 14, pp. 92–7.
Europe – Afrique: Regards croisés (1998). Perpignon: Confrontation Cinématographique
Fage, J. D. (1969) A History of West Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fanon, Frantz (1967) The Wretched of the Earth. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Fanon, Frantz (1970) Toward the African Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Farid, Samir (1973) ‘Les Six générations du cinéma égyptien’. Paris: Écran 15, pp. 38–49.
Farid, Samir (1979) Arab Cinema Guide. Cairo.
FEPACI (1995) L’Afrique et le centenaire du cinéma/Africa and the Centenary of
Cinema. Paris: Présence Africaine.
Fertat, Ahmed (2000) Une passion nommée cinéma: Vie et oeuvres de Mohamed
Osfour. Tangier: Altopress.
FESPACO (from 1969) catalogues. Ouagadougou.
Festival Cinema Africano (from 1991) catalogues. Milan: COE.
Festival du film arabe (from 1983) catalogues. Paris.
Festival: Images du monde arabe (1993). Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe.
Festival International de Montpellier (from 1985) catalogues et actes. Montpellier.
Festival National du Film Marocain (from 1982) catalogues. Morocco.
Film in Algerien ab 1970 (1978). Berlin: Kinemathek 57.
Finnegan, Ruth (1976) Oral Literature in Africa. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.
Fonkoua, Romuald-Blaise (ed.) (2004) Cinquante ans de cinéma africain/Hommage à
Paulin Soumanou Vieyra. Paris: Présence Africaine 170.
Frodon, Jean-Pierre (ed.) (2004) Au Sud du Cinéma. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma/Arte
Gabous, Abdelkrim (1998) Silence, elles tournent!: Les femmes et le cinéma en Tunisie.
Tunis: Cérès Editions/CREDIF.
Gabriel, Teshome H. (1982) Third Cinema in the Third World. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI
Research Press.
Gadjigo, Samba, Faulkingham, Ralph H., Cassirer, Thomas and Sander, Reinhard (eds)
(1993) Ousmane Sembene: Dialogues with Critics and Writers. Amherst: University
of Massachusetts Press.
Gakwandi, Shatto Arthur (1977) The Novel and Contemporary Experience in Africa.
London: Heinemann.
Ganda, Oumarou (1981) Cabascabo (with Moi un noir) (script). Paris: L’Avant-Scène
du Cinéma 265.
Garcia, Jean-Pierre (1996) Sous l’arbre à palabres: Guide pratique à l’usage des cinéastes
africains. Amiens: Festival International du Film d’Amiens; (2001, 2nd edn).
Givenchy: Caravane Editeurs.
Garcia, Jean-Pierre (1997) Itinéraires: Les cinéastes africains au festival de Cannes.
Paris: Ministère de la Coopération.
Gardies, André (1989) Cinéma d’Afrique noire francophone. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Gardies, André and Haffner, Pierre (1989) Regards sur le cinéma négro-africain.
Brussels: OCIC.
Garon, Lise (2003) Dangerous Alliances: Civil Society, the Media and Democratic
Transition in North Africa. London and New York: Zed Books.
Gaulme, François (ed.) (2001) Afrique contemporaine. Paris: La Documentation
Ghazoul, Ferial J. (ed.) (1995) Arab Cinematics: Towards the New and the Alternative.
Cairo: Alif 15.
Ghoussoub, Mai and Sinclair-Webb, Emma (ed.) (2000) Imagined Masculinities: Male
Identity and Culture in the Modern Middle East. London: Saqi Books.
Givanni, June (ed.) (2000) Symbolic Narratives/African Cinema: Audiences, Theory and
the Moving Image. London: BFI.
Gordon, David C. (1978) The French Language and National Identity. The Hague:
Mouton Publishing.
Guellali, Amna (ed.) (1998) Idrissa Ouedraogo. Tunis: ATPCC/Cinécrits 15.
Gugler, Josef (2003) African Film: Re-Imagining a Continent. London: James Currey.
Guide du cinéma africain (1989–1999) (2000). Paris: Ecrans Nord-Sud.
Gupta, Dhruba (1994) African Cinema: A View from India. Jamshedpur: Celluloid
Gutberlet, Marie-Hélène and Metzler, Hans-Peter (eds) (1997) Afrikanisches Kino. Bad
Honnef: Horlemann/ARTE.
Gutmann, Marie-Pierre (ed.) (1999) Le Partenariat euro-méditerranéen dans le domaine
de l’image. Morocco: Service de coopération de l’action culturelle de l’Ambassade de
France au Maroc.
Hadj-Moussa, Rahiba (1994) Le Corps, l’histoire, le territoire: Les rapports de genre
dans le cinéma algérien. Paris/Montreal: Publisud & Edition Balzac.
Haffner, Pierre (1978) Essai sur les fondements du cinéma africain. Paris: NEA.
Haffner, Pierre (1989) Kino in Schwarzafrika. Munich: French Institute/Cicim 27–8.
Haffner, Pierre (1994) ‘The Hypothesis of Suspense’. Milan: Écrans d’Afrique/African
Screen 7, pp. 16–21.
Haffner, Pierre (2000) ‘D’une fleur double et de quatre mille autres: Sur le développement du cinéma africain’. Paris: La Documentation Française, pp. 27–35.
Hall, Stuart (1989) ‘Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representations’. London:
Framework 36, pp. 68–81.
Harrow, Kenneth W. (ed.) (1996) The Marabout and the Muse: New Approaches to
Islam in African Fiction. Portsmouth NH and London: Heinemann/James Curry.
Harrow, Kenneth W. (ed.) (1997) With Open Eyes: Women and African Cinema.
Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi/Matutu 19.
Harrow, Kenneth W. (ed.) (1999) African Cinema: Post-Colonial and Feminist
Readings. Trenton, NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press.
Hayes, Jarrod (2000) Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb. Chicago:
Chicago University Press.
Hayes, Jonathan (ed.) (1997) Nigerian Video Films. Jos: Nigerian Film Corporation.
Hennebelle, Guy (ed.) (1972) Les Cinémas africains en 1972. Paris: Société Africaine
Hennebelle, Guy (1975) Quinze ans de cinéma mondial. Paris: Éditions du Cerf.
Hennebelle, Guy (ed.) (1979) Cinémas de l’émigration. Paris: CinémAction 8.
Hennebelle, Guy and Soyer, Chantal (ed.) (1980) Cinéma contre racisme. Paris:
CinémAction (hors série)/Tumulte 7.
Hennebelle, Guy (ed.) (1983) Cinémas noirs d’Afrique. Paris: CinémAction 23.
Hennebelle, Guy and Ruelle Catherine (1978) Cinéastes de l’Afrique noire. Paris:
FESPACO/CinémAction 3/L’Afrique Littéraire et Artistique 49.
Hennebelle, Guy, Berrah, Mouny and Stora, Benjamin (eds) (1997) La Guerre d’Algérie
à l’écran. Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 85.
Hitchcott, Nicki (ed.) (2001) Gender and Francophone Writing. Nottingham:
Nottingham French Studies 40: 1.
Hjort, Mette and Mackenzie Scott, (ed.) (2000) Cinema and Nation. London and
New York: Routledge.
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Ranger, Terence (eds) (1983) The Invention of Tradition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Horne, Alastair (1979) A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954–1962. Harmondsworth:
Hull, Richard W. (1980) Modern Africa: Change and Continuity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
lbo, Ousmane (1993) Le Cinéma au Niger. Brussels: OCIC.
Iliffe, John (1993) The Emergence of African Capitalism. London: Macmillan.
Image(s) du Maghrébin dans le cinéma français (1989). Paris: Grand Maghreb 47.
Images et Visages du Cinéma Algérien (1984). Algiers: ONCIC/Ministry of Culture and
Irele, Abiola (1981) The African Experience in Literature and Ideology. London:
Issa, Maïzama (1991) Omarou Ganda, Cinéaste nigérien: Un regard de dedans sur la
société en transition. Dakar: Ena-Édition.
Jaïdi, Moulay Driss (1991) Le Cinéma au Maroc. Rabat: Collection al majal.
Jaïdi, Moulay Driss (1992) Public(s) et cinéma. Rabat: Collection al majal.
Jaïdi, Moulay Driss (1994) Vision(s) de la société marocaine à travers le court métrage.
Rabat: Collection al majal.
Jaïdi, Moulay Driss (1995) Cinégraphiques. Rabat: Collection al majal.
Jaïdi, Moulay Driss (2000) Diffusion et audience des médias audiovisuels. Rabat:
Collection al majal.
Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage (from 1966) catalogues. Tunis.
Jung, Fernand (1997) Südlich der Sahara: Filme aus Schwarzafrika. Munich: Kopäd
Kamba, Sébastien (1992) Production cinématographique et parti unique: l’exemple du
Congo. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Kaye, Jacqueline (ed.) (1992) Maghreb: New Writing from North Africa. (York: Talus
Editions/University of York.
Kaye, Jacqueline and Zoubir, Abdelhamid (1990) The Ambiguous Compromise:
Language, Literature, and National Identity in Algeria and Morocco. London and
New York: Routledge.
Kemp, Tom (1983) Industrialization in the Non-Western World. London and New
York: Longman.
Khayati, Khémais (1996) Cinémas arabes: Topographie d’une image éclatée. Paris and
Montreal: L’Harmattan.
Khelil, Hédi (1994) Nouvelles du cinéma. Sousse: Éd. Saïdane.
Khelil, Hédi (1994) Résistances et utopies: Essais sur le cinéma arabe et africain. Tunis:
Édition Sahar.
Khelil, Hédi (2002) Le Parcours et la Trace: Témoignages et documents sur le cinéma
tunisien. Salammbô: MediaCon.
Khlifi, Omar (1970) L’Histoire du cinéma en Tunisie. Tunis: STD.
Khuri, Fuad I. (1990) Tents and Pyramids: Games and Ideology in Arab Culture
fromBackgammon to Autocratic Rule. London: Saqi Books.
Khuri, Fuad I. (2001) The Body in Islamic Culture. London: Saqi Books.
Kummer, Ida (ed.) (2002) Cinéma Maghrébin. Saratoga Springs: special issue of Celaan
1: 1–2.
La Semaine du cinéma arabe (1987). Paris: IMA.
La Tunisie: Annuaire 1995 (Etats des lieux du cinéma en Afrique) (1995). Paris:
Association des Trois Mondes/FEPACI.
Lacey, Kevin R. and Coury, Ralph M. (eds) (2000) The Arab-African and Islamic
Worlds: Interdisciplinary Studies. New York: Peter Lang.
Lacoste, Camille and Lacoste, Yves (1995) Maghreb: Peuples et populations. Paris: Éditions la Découverte.
Lamchichi, Abderrahim and Ballet, Dominique (eds) (2001) Maghrébins de France:
Regards sur les dynamiques de l’intégration. Paris: Confluences Méditerranée 39.
Landau, Jacob M. (1958) Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsyvania Press.
Landy, Marcia (1996) ‘Folklore, Memory, and Postcoloniality in Ousmane Sembene’s
Films’, in Marcia Landy, Cinematic Uses of the Past. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, pp. 30–66.
Laroui, Abdallah (1997) Islamisme, Modernisme, Libéralisme. Casablanca: Centre
Culturel Arabe.
Lazreg, Marnia (1994) The Eloquence of Silence: Algerian Women in Question. London
and New York: Routledge.
Le Clap ou à la connaissance des cinéastes africains et de la diaspora (2001).
Ouagadougou: Sykif.
Le Droit à la Mémoire (2000). Toulouse: Horizons Maghrébins 46.
Le Rôle du cinéaste africain dans l’éveil d’une conscience de civilisation noire (1970).
Paris: Présence Africaine 90.
Leaman, Oliver (2001) Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African
Film. London and New York: Routledge.
Legall, Michael and Perkins, Kenneth (eds) (1997) The Magrib in Question. Austin:
University of Texas Press.
Lelièvre, Samuel (ed.) (2003) Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert?. Paris:
Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction 106.
Lequeret, Elisabeth (2003) Le Cinéma africain: Un continent à la recherche de son
propre regard. Cahiers du cinéma/Scérén/CNDP.
Les Cinémas d’Afrique: Dictionnaire (2000). Paris: Éditions Karthala/Éditions ATM.
Lewis, Bernard (1998) The Multiple Identities of the Middle East. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson.
Liauzu, Claude, Meynier, Gilbert, Sgroi-Dufresne, Maria and Signoles, Pierre (eds)
(1985) Enjeux urbains au Maghreb. Paris: L’Harmattan.
L’Individu au Maghreb (1993). Tunis: Éditions TS.
Lionnet, Françoise and Scharfman, Ronnie (eds) (1993) Post/Colonial Conditions:
Exiles, Migrations and Nomadisms. New Haven and London: Yale University
Press/Yale French Studies 82 and 83.
Littératures de Tunisie (1997). Paris: Ifriquiya 1.
Lloyd, P. C. (1969) Africa in Social Change. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Maarek, Philippe J. (ed.) (1983) Afrique noire: quel cinéma?. Paris: Association du
Cinéclub de l’Université de Paris X.
Maherzi, Lotfi (1980) Le Cinéma algérien: Institutions, imaginaire, idéologie. Algiers:
Malkmus, Lizbeth and Armes Roy (1991) Arab and African Film Making. London: Zed
Malti-Douglas, Fedwa (1991) Woman’s Body, Woman’s Word: Gender and Discourse
in Arabo-Islamic Writing. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Manning, Patrick (1988) Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa 1880–1985. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Mansour, Guillemette (2000) Samama Chikly: Un tunisien à la rencontre du XXième
siècle. Tunis: Simpact Editions.
Mansouri, Hassouna (2000) De l’identité, ou Pour une certaine tendance du cinéma
africain. Tunis: Éditions Sahar.
Maquet, Jacques (1972) Civilisations of Black Africa. New York: Oxford University
Martin, Angela (1982) African Films: The Context of Production. London: BFI.
Martineau, Monique (ed.) (1979) Le Cinéma au féminisme. Paris: CinémAction 9.
McDougall, James (ed.) (2003) Nation, Society and Culture in North Africa. London
and Portland, OR: Frank Cass.
Meddour, Azzedine (1999) La Montagne de Baya, ou la ‘diya’ (novel). Algeria: Editions
Megherbi, Abdelghani (1982) Les Algériens au miroir du cinéma colonial. Algiers:
Megherbi, Abdelghani (1985) Le Miroir aux alouettes. Algiers and Brussels: ENAL/
Memmi, Albert (1974) The Colonizer and the Colonized. London: Souvenir Press.
Memmi, Albert (1985) Portrait du colonisé, précédé de Portrait du colonisateur. Paris:
Mernissi, Fatima (1985, 2nd edn) Beyond the Veil: Male Female Dynamics in Muslim
Society. London: Al Saqi Books.
Mernissi, Fatima (1991) Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry.
Oxford: Blackwell.
Mernissi, Fatima (1993) Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World. London:
Mernissi, Fatima (1996) The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood. London:
Bantam Books.
Miller, Christopher L. (1998) Nationalists and Nomads: Essays on Francophone
African Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Millet, Raphaël (1998) ‘(In)dépendance des cinémas du Sud &/vs France’. Paris:
Théorème 5, pp. 141–77.
Millet, Raphaël (2002) Cinémas de la Méditerranée: Cinémas de la mélancolie. Paris:
Mimoun, Mouloud (ed.) (1992) France-Algérie: Images d’une guerre. Paris: Institut du
Monde Arabe.
Mitterrand, Frédéric and Elyes-Ferchichi, Soraya (1995) Une saison tunisienne. Arles:
Actes Sud/AFAA.
Mondolini, Dominique (ed.) (2002) Cinémas d’Afrique. Paris: ADPF/Notre Libraire
Moumen, Touti (1998) Films tunisiens: Longs métrages 1967–98. Tunis: Touti
Mudimbe, V. Y. (1988) The Invention of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Mulvey, Laura (1996) ‘The Carapace that Failed: Ousmane Sembene’s Xala’, in Laura
Mulvey, Fetishism and Curiosity. London: BFI, and Bloomington: Indiana University
Murison, Katharine (2002) Africa South of the Sahara. London: Europa Publications.
Murphy, David (2000) Sembene: Imagining Alternatives in Film and Fiction. Oxford:
James Currey, and Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
Naficy, Hamid (2001) An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking.
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ngakane, Lionel and Shiri, Keith (1991) Africa on Film. London: BBC.
Ngansop, Guy Jérémie (1987) Le Cinéma camerounais en crise. Paris: L’Harmattan.
N’Gosso, Gaston Samé and, Ruelle, Catherine (1983) Cinéma et télévision en Afrique.
Paris: Unesco.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986) Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African
Literature. London: John Currey.
Niang, Sada (ed.) (1996) Littérature et cinéma en Afrique francophone: Ousmane
Sembène et Assia Djebar. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Niang, Sada (2002) Djibril Diop Mambety: Un Cinéaste à Contre-Courant. Paris:
Nicollier, Valéri (1991) Der Offene Bruch: Das Kino der Pieds Noirs. munich: Cinim
Nieuwkerk, Karin van (1995) ‘A Trade Like Any Other’: Female Singers and Dancers
in Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey (1996) The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
N’zelomona, Berthin (ed.) (2001) La Francophonie. Paris: Recherches Africaines 5.
Okot p’Bitek (1973) Africa’s Cultural Revolution. Nairobi: Macmillan.
Olaniyan, Richard (ed.) (1982) African History and Culture. Lagos: Longman.
Oliver, Roland (1999) The African Experience. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Ossman, Susan (1998) Miroirs maghrébins: Itinéraires de soi et paysages de rencontre.
Paris: CNRS Éditions.
Ostle, Robin, de Moor, Ed and Wild, Stefan (ed.) (1998) Writing the Self:
Autobiographical Writing in Modern Arabic Literature. London: Saqi Books.
Otten, Rik (1984) Le Cinéma au Zaire, au Rwanda et au Burundi. Brussels: OCIC.
Où va le cinéma algérien? (2003). Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, hors-série.
Ouédraogo, Hamidou (1995) Naissance et évolution du FESPACO de 1969 à 1973.
Ouagadougou: Hamidou Ouédraogo.
Panorama du cinéma marocain (2004). Rabat: Centre Cinématographique Marocain.
Perkins, Kenneth J. (2004) A History of Modern Tunisia. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Petty, Sheila (ed.) (1996) A Call to Arms: The Films of Ousmane Sembene. Trowbridge:
Flicks Books.
Pfaff, Françoise (1984) The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Pfaff, Françoise (1988) 25 Black African Film Makers. New York: Greenwood Press.
Pfaff, Françoise (ed.) (2004) Focus on African Films. Bloomington: Indiana University
Pommier, Pierre (1974) Cinéma et développement en Afrique noire francophone. Paris:
Pontcharra, Nicole de and Maati Kabbal (ed.) (2000) Le Maroc en mouvement:
Créations contemporaines. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose.
Pour une promotion du cinéma national (1993). Rabat: CCM.
Pourtier, Roland (ed.) (1999) Villes africaines. Paris: La Documentation Française.
Puaux, Françoise (ed.) (2001) Le machisme à l’écran. Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction
Quarante Ans de Cinéma Algérien (2002). Algiers: Dar Raïs Hamidou.
Reader, John (1998) Africa: A Biography of the Continent. Harmondsworth: Penguin
Regard sur le cinéma au Maroc (1995). Rabat: CCM.
Remacle, Xavière (2002) Comprendre la culture arabo-musulmane. Brussels: Centre
Bruxellois d’Action Interculturelle/Editions Vista/Lyon: Chronique Sociale.
Reporters sans Frontières (ed.) (1995, 2nd edn) Le Drame algérien: Un peuple en otage.
Paris: Éditions la Découverte.
Reynolds, Dwight F. (ed.) (2001) Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic
Literary Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Robinson, Cedric (1980) ‘Domination and Imitation: Xala and the Emergence of the
Black Bourgeoisie’. London: Race and Class 22: 2, pp. 147–58.
Robinson, David (2004) Muslim Societies in African History. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Rodney, Walter (1972) How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: BogleL’Ouverture.
Roitfeld, Pierre (1980) Afrique noire francophone. Paris: Unifrance.
Roque, Maria-Àngels (ed.) (1996) Les Cultures du Maghreb. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Rouissi, Moncer (1983) Population et société au Maghreb. Tunis: Cérès Productions.
Ruelle, Catherine (ed.) (2005) Afriques 50: Singularités d’un cinéma pluriel. Paris:
Sadoul, Georges (1966) The Cinema in the Arab Countries. Beirut: Interarab Center for
Cinema and Television/Unesco.
Salhi, Abdel-Illah (2002) ‘Sissako, Bricoleur de petites existences’. Paris: Qantara 46,
pp. 28–9.
Said, Edward W. (1993) Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage.
Sakr Naomi (ed.) (2004) Women and Media in the Middle East: Power Through SelfExpression. London and New York: I. B. Tauris.
Salah, Rassa Mohamed (1192) 35 ans de cinéma tunisien. Tunis: Éditions Saharx.
Salmane, Hala, Hartog, Simon and Wilson, David (eds) (1976) Algerian Cinema.
London: BFI.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1999) La Double absense: Des illusions de l’émigré aux souffrances
de l’immigré. Paris: Seuil.
Schmidt, Nancy (1988 and 1994) Sub-Saharan African Films and Film Makers: An
Annotated Bibliography, 2 vols. London: Zell.
Seguin, Jean-Claude (1999) Alexandre Promio ou les énigmes de la lumière. Paris:
Sembene, Ousmane (1977) Interview with Robert Grelier. Paris: La Revue du
Cinéma/Image et Son 322, pp. 74–80.
Sembene, Ousmane (1979) Borom Sarret (script, with Jacques Chapreux’s Bako,
L’Autre Rive). Paris: L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma 229.
Sene, Papa (2001) Djibril Diop Mambety: La caméra au bout . . . du nez. Paris:
Serceau, Daniel (ed.) (1985) Sembène Ousmane. Paris: CinémAction 34.
Serceau, Michel (ed.) (2004) Cinémas du Maghreb. Paris: Corlet/Télérama/CinémAction
Shafik, Viola (1998) Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. Cairo: The American
University in Cairo Press.
Shaka, Femi Okiremuete (2004) Modernity and the African Cinema. Trenton, NJ and
Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press.
Sherzer, Dina (1996) Cinema, Colonialism, Postcolonialism: Perspectives from the
French and Francophone Worlds. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Shiri, Keith (1993) Africa at the Pictures. London: National Film Theatre.
Shiri, Keith (2003) Celebrating African Cinema. London: Africa at the Pictures.
Shoat, Ella and Stamm, Robert (1994) Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and
the Media. London and New York: Routledge.
Signaté, Ibrahima (1994) Med Hondo – Un cinéaste rebelle. Paris: Présence Africaine.
Slavin, David Henry (2001) Colonial Cinema and Imperial France, 1919–1939.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Slyomovics, Susan (ed.) (2001) The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture and
History. London: Frank Cass.
Souiba, Fouad and el Zahra el Alaoui, Fatima (1995) Un siècle de cinéma au Maroc.
Rabat: World Design Communication.
Soyinka, Wole (1976) Myth, Literature and the African World. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Spass, Lieve (2000) The Francophone Film: A Struggle for Identity. Manchester:
Manchester University Press.
Steven, Peter (ed.) (1975) Jump Cut: Hollywood, Politics and Counter-Cinema.
Toronto: Between The Lines.
Stollery, Martin (2001) ‘Masculinities Generations, and Cultural Transformation in
Contemporary Tunisian Cinema’. Glasgow: Screen 42: 1, pp. 49–63.
Stora, Benjamin (1994) Histoire de l’Algérie depuis l’indépendance. Paris: Éditions La
Stora, Benjamin (1998) La Gangrène et l’oubli: La mémoire de la guerre d’Algérie. Paris:
Éditions La Découverte.
Stora, Benjamin (2001) La Guerre invisible: Algérie, années 90. Paris: Presses de
Sciences PO.
Stora, Benjamin (2001) Algeria 1830–2000: A Short History. Ithaca and London:
Cornell University Press.
Stora, Benjamin and Ellyas, Akram (1999) Les 100 Portes du Maghreb. Paris: Les Éditions de l’Atelier/Éditions Ouvrières.
Taboulay, Camille (1997) Le Cinéma métaphorique de Mohamed Chouikh. Paris:
K Films Editions.
Talha, Larbi (ed.) (1987) Monde arabe: Migrations et identités. La Calade: Edisud.
Tamzali, Wassyla (1979) En attendant Omar Gatlato. Algiers: EnAP.
Tanizaki, Junichiro (2001) In Praise of Shadows. London: Vintage.
Tarr, Carrie (2005) Reframing Difference: Beur and Banlieue Film Making in France.
Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Teicher, Gaël (2003) Moustapha Alassane Cinéaste. Paris: Les Éditions de l’Oeil.
TenKoul, Abderrahman (ed.) (1991) Ecritures Maghrébines: Lectures croisées.
Casablanca: Afrique Orient.
Thackway, Melissa (2003) Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan
Francophone African Film. London: James Currey.
Thiers-Thiam, Valérie (2004) À chacun son griot. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Tlatli, Moufida (2004) Les Silences du palais. Paris: L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma 536.
Tomaselli, Keyan (1981) The South African Film Industry. Johannesburg: University of
Tomaselli, Keyan (ed.) (1986) Le Cinéma sud-africain est-il tombé sur la tête?. Paris:
L’Afrique littéraire 78/CinémAction 39.
Tomaselli, Keyan (1989) The Cinema of Apartheid. London: Routledge.
Tomaselli, Keyan (ed.) (1993) African Cinema. Natal: Critical Arts 7: 1–2.
Toumi, Mohsen (1982) Le Maghreb. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Troin, Jean-François (ed.) (1985) Le Maghreb: Hommes et espaces. Paris: Armand
Troin, Jean-François (ed.) (1995) Maghreb Moyen-Orient Mutations. Paris: Sedes.
Turégano, Teresa Hoefert de (2005) African Cinema and Europe: Close-up on Burkina
Faso. Florence: European Press Academic.
Turvey, Gerry (1995) ‘Xala and the Curse of Neo-Colonialism: Reflections on a Realist
Project’. London: Screen 26: 3–4, pp. 75–87.
Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (1994) Black African Cinema. Berkeley: California
University Press.
Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (2002) Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with
Filmmakers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Vautier, René (1998) Caméra citroyenne: Mémoires. Rennes: Editions Apogée.
Vautier, René (2001) Afrique 50 (script). Paris: Éditions Paris Expérimental.
Venturini, Fabrice (2005) Mehdi Charef: Conscience esthétique de la génération ‘beur’.
Biarritz: Séguier.
Vermeren, Pierre (2001) Le Maroc en transition. Paris: Éditions La Découverte.
Videau, André (ed.) (2001) Mélanges culturelles. Paris: Hommes et Migrations.
Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou (1969) Le Cinéma et l’Afrique. Paris: Présence Africaine.
Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou (1972) Sembène Ousmane cinéaste. Paris: Présence Africaine.
Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou (1975) Le Cinéma africain des origines à 1973. Paris: Présence
Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou (1983) Le Cinéma au Sénégal. Brussels: OCIC.
Vincendeau, Ginette (1998) Pépé le Moko. London: BFI.
Visions du Maghreb (1985) Aix-en-Provence: Edisud.
Wassef, Magda (ed.) (1995) Egypte: Cent ans de cinéma. Paris: IMA.
Werbner, Richard and Ranger, Terence (eds) (1996) Postcolonial Identities in Africa.
London: Zed Books.
Wynchank, Anny (2003) Djibril Diop Mambety, ou Le Voyage du Voyant. Ivry-Sur
Seine: Éditions A3.
Zannad, Traki (1984) Symboliques Corporelles et Espaces Musulmans. Tunis: Ceres
Zannad Bouchrara, Traki (1994) Les Lieux du corps en Islam. Paris: Publisud.
Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe (ed.) (2003) Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century African History.
London and New York: Routledge.
Zuhur, Sherifa (ed.) (1998) Images of Enchantment: Visual and Performing Arts of the
Middle East. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
This index is limited to filmmakers and their films. Numbers in italic type indicate
illustrations; those in bold type refer to whole chapters devoted to the particular
À Casablanca les anges ne volent pas
(Asli), 151
À la recherche du mari de ma femme
(Tazi), 14, 42, 110, 132
Abalo, Kilizou Blaise, 47
Abbass, Hiam, 177
Abouna (Haroun), 145, 162–5, 163
About Some Meaningless Events
(Derkaoui), 115
Adieu forain (Aoulad Syad), 133
Adventures of a Hero, The (Allouache),
Afrance, L’ (Gomis), 145
Africa, I Will Fleece You (Teno), 101
Afrique 50 (Vautier), 31
Afrique, je te plumerai (Teno), 101
Aïn El-Ghazel (Samama Chikly), 25
Ainsi meurent les anges (Sene Absa),
Al-haram (Barakat), 30
Alassane, Mustapha, 46–7, 171
Alger-Beyrouth, pour mémoire
(Allouache), 98
Algeria in Flames (Vautier), 31
Algérie en flammes (Vautier), 31
Algiers-Beirut: In Remembrance
(Allouache), 98
Ali au pays des mirages (Rachedi), 75
Ali in Wonderland (Rachedi), 75
Ali Zaoua (Ayouch), 151
Allouache, Merzak, 62, 63, 97–8, 111,
116–17, 118, 119
Amants de Mogador, Les (Benbarka), 83
Amari, Raja, 63, 95, 144, 145, 176–82
Ambassadeurs, Les (Ktari), 83–4
Ambassadors, The (Ktari), 83–4
Amok (Benbarka), 83
Amours de Hadj Soldi, Les (Derkaoui),
And So Angels Die (Sene Absa), 137
And Tomorrow? (Babaï), 83
Andrei Rublov (Tarkovsky), 191
Angels, The (Behi), 84
Anger of the Gods, The (Ouedraogo),
Anges, Les (Behi), 84
Ansah, Kwah Paintsil, 154
Antonioni, Michelangelo, 191
Aoulad Syad, Daoud, 115, 132–3, 144,
April (Amari), 177
‘Arab (Jaïbi and Jaziri), 115
Arab (Jaïbi and Jaziri), 115
Arab, The (Ingram), 25
Arche du désert, L’ (Chouikh), 130–1
Aristotle’s Plot (Bekolo), 45, 153, 154
Arnaud, Jean-Jacques, 156
Ascofaré, Abdoulaye, 103–4, 144
Asli, Mohamed, 143, 144, 149, 151–2
Attia, Ahmed, 91
Aube, L’ (Khlifi), 37, 76
Aube des damnés, L’ (Rachedi), 37, 74
Automne – octobre à Alger (Lakhdar
Hamina), 148
Autre monde, L’ (Allouache), 98
Autumn – October in Algiers (Lakhdar
Hamina), 148
Aventures d’un héros, Les (Allouache),
Avril (Amari), 177
Ayouch, Nabil, 63, 143, 144, 145, 147,
149, 151, 182, 183
Aziza (Ben Ammar), 84–5, 177
B 400 (Haroun), 159
Ba Kobhio, Bassek, 47, 100
Baara (Cisse), 78
Bab el Oued City (Allouache), 97–8
Bab el Web (Allouache), 98
Babaï, Brahim, 83
Baccar, Elyes, 144
Baccar, Jalila, 115, 116
Baccar, Selma, 80, 94
Bachir Chouikh, Yamina, 40, 95
Badis (Tazi), 91
Bahloul, Abdelkrim, 146
Balin, Mireille, 23
Baliseurs du désert, Les (Khenir), 128–9
Balogun, Ola, 156
Bandits, Les (Naciri), 42, 110
Barakat, Henry, 30
Barbeque Pejo (Odoutan), 146
Barber of the Poor Quarter, The
(Reggab), 90
Baroncelli, Jacques de, 22
Bataille d’Alger, La (Pontecorvo), 39
Bathily, Moussa Yoro, 48–9
Battle of Algiers, The (Pontecorvo), 39
Battù (Sissoko), 134
Baya’s Mountain (Meddour ), 99
Beach of Lost Children, The (Ferhati), 90
Beautiful Days of Sherazade, The
(Derkaoui), 115
Beaux jours de Chahrazade, Les
(Derkaoui), 115
Behi, Ridha, 84
Bekolo, Jean-Pierre, 27, 45, 62, 63, 79,
100, 103, 153–4, 155
Belabbes, Hakim, 144
Belmejdoub, Jamal, 144
Beloufa, Farouk, 40, 62, 111, 119
Ben Ammar, Abdellatif, 60, 82–3, 84–5,
Ben Mabrouk, Neija, 94
Ben Mahmoud, Mahmoud, 12, 25, 128,
Benallal, Rachid, 81
Benani, Hamid, 60, 111, 115
Benbarka, Souheil, 83, 97
Bendeddouche, Ghaouti, 41
Benhadj, Rachid, 41, 89–90
Béni, Alphonse, 45
Benlyazid, Farida, 91, 95
Bensaidi, Faouzi, 145, 183–90
Bent familia (Bouzid), 92
Bernhardt, Sarah, 22
Bernheim, Michel, 22
Berto, Juliette, 177
Bertolucci, Bernardo, 154
Beznes (Bouzid), 91–2
Bicots-nègres, vos voisins, Les (Hondo),
Big Trip, The (Tazi), 90–1
Biru, Abraham Haïlé, 163
Bitter Champagne (Behi), 84
Black Girl (Sembene), 37, 48, 54–5, 69, 73
Black Light (Hondo), 77–8
Black Wogs, Your Neighbours, The
(Hondo), 77
Blood Wedding (Benbarka), 83
Boisset, Yves, 83
Boîte magique, La (Behi), 84
Bookstore, The (Saheb-Ettaba), 152
Bord’Africa (Haroun), 159
Bornaz, Kaltoum, 94–5
Borom Sarret (Sembene), 13, 69, 170
Bouamari, Mohamed, 117–18
Bouanani, Ahmed, 111, 115, 133
Bouchareb, Rachid, 146
Boughedir, Ferid, 21, 25, 36, 37, 45, 46,
48, 49, 51, 58, 62, 63, 110, 131,
Bouguermouh, Abderrahmane, 98–9
Boulane, Ahmed, 144
Bourquia, Farida, 95
Bouquet, Le (Amari), 177
Boutella, Safi, 41
Bouzid, Nouri, 56, 62–3, 91–2
Brahimi, Himoud, 118
Braids (Ferhati), 90, 183
Braise, La (Bourquia), 96
Brazza or the Epic of the Congo
(Poirier), 22
Brazza ou l’épopée du Congo (Poirier),
Bresson, Robert, 190
Buñuel, Luis, 151
Buud Yam (Kabore), 124–5
Bye Bye Africa (Haroun), 44, 159–62,
162, 164, 197
Bye Bye Souirty (Aoulad Syad), 133
Ça twiste à Poponguine (Sene Ansa),
Camara, Dansogho Mohamed, 46
Camara, Mohamed, 144, 152–3
Camel and the Floating Sticks, The
(Sissako), 192
Camp de Thiaroye (Sembene), 71, 72, 88
Casablanca Casablanca (Benlyazid), 95
Casablacais, Les (Lagtaâ), 96–7
Casablancans, The (Lagtaâ), 96–7
Cavero, Laurent, 163
Ceddo (Sembene), 48, 71–2
Challenge, The (Khlifi), 76
Chameau et les bâtons flottants, Le
(Sissako), 192
Champagne amer (Behi), 84
Chant d’un immigré, L’ (Mesbahi), 149
Chaplin, Charlie, 163
Charbonnier, Le (Bouamari), 117–18
Charby, Jacques, 74
Charcoal Burner, The (Bouamari),
Charef, Mehdi, 146
Chatta, Nidhal, 144
Chef! (Teno), 101
Cheriaa, Tahar, 16
Cheval de vent (Aoulad Syad), 133, 183
Chevaux de fortune (Ferhati), 90
Chief! (Teno), 101
Chikly, see Samama Chikly, Albert,
Chikly, Haydée, 24–5
Children of the Wind (Tsaki), 88
Chouchou (Allouache), 98
Chouikh, Mohamed, 39, 61, 63, 123,
Chraïbi, Omar, 144
Chrigui, Tijani, 132
Chronicle of the Years of Embers
(Lakhdar Hamina), 40, 74–5, 88
Chronique des années de braise (Lakhdar
Hamina), 40, 74–5, 88
Cinq gentlemen maudits, Les (Luitz
Morat), 22
Cisse, Souleymane, 27, 38, 48, 62, 76,
78–9, 92, 103, 111, 127–8, 154
Citadel, The (Chouikh), 130
Citadelle, La (Chouikh), 130
Clando (Teno), 101
Clay Dolls (Bouzid), 92
Cliff, The (Bensaidi), 184
Closed Door, The (Lagtaâ), 96
Coelo, Issa Serge, 47, 144, 145, 149,
150, 161
Coffee-Coloured (Duparc), 110
Coiffeur du quartier des pauvres, Le
(Reggab), 90
Colère des dieux, La (Ouedraogo), 127
Collier perdu de la colombe, Le
(Khemir), 129–30
Colline oubliée, La (Bouguermouh),
Colonial Misunderstanding, The (Teno),
Complot d’Aristote, Le (Bekolo), 45,
153, 154
Contes des mille et une nuits, Les
(Tourjansky), 25
Coppola, Francis Ford, 185
Costa-Gavras, 83
Coulibaly, Kandioura, 134
Cri de cœur, Le (Ouedraogo), 102
Crooks (Naciri), 42, 110
Crossing Over (Ben Mahmoud), 126
Cry No More (Nejjar), 95, 155
Dakan (Camara), 152–3
Damardjji, Djafar, 60
Danse du feu, La (Baccar), 80
Daresalam (Coelo), 150, 161
Davanture, Andrée, 56, 57
Davis, Peter, 26
Dawn, The (Khlifi), 37, 76
Dawn of the Damned (Rachedi), 37, 74
Days, The Days, The (El Maânouni), 84
De quelques événements sans
signification (Derkaoui), 115
December (Lakhdar Hamina), 74
Décembre (Lakhdar Hamina), 74
Défi, Le (Khlifi), 76
Delgardo, Clarence T., 49
Delwende (Yaméogo), 94
Démon au féminin, Le (Zinaï-Koudil), 95
Den muso (Cisse), 78
Denko (Camara), 152
Depardieu, Gérard, 41, 89–90
Depardon, Raymond, 176
Derkaoui, Mustafa, 115
Dernière image, La (Lakhdar Hamina),
Desert Ark, The (Chouikh), 130–1
Despleschin, Arnaud, 176
Deux frères (Arnaud), 156
Deuxième épouse, La (Haroun), 159
Dhouib, Moncef, 111, 131–2
Diakite, Moussa Kemoko, 46
Dieux sont tombés sur la tête, Les (Uys),
Dikongue-Pipa, Jean-Pierre, 45, 55
Diop Mambety, Djibril, 48, 63, 111, 112,
113–14, 153, 154
Djebar, Assia, 80, 94, 111, 119–20
Djeli (Fadika), 88, 92
Dôlè (Imunga Ivanga), 46, 149–50, 151
Doukouré, Cheik, 46
Dove’s Lost Necklace, The (Khemir),
Drabo, Adamu, 135
Drifters, The (Khemir), 128–9
Driss, Mohamed, 115
Drums of Fire (Benbarka), 83
Dunia (Yaméogo), 93
Duparc, Henri, 47, 110
Duvivier, Julien, 23–4
Écaré, Désiré, 37, 47
El Chergui (Smihi), 115
El Chergui ou le silence violent (Smihi),
El Fani, Nadia, 144, 145
El kotbia (Saheb-Ettaba), 152
El Maânouni, Ahmed, 84
El manara (Hadjadj), 99
Elle est diabétique et hypertendue et elle
refuse de crever (Noury), 97, 110
Embers, The (Bourquia), 95
Emitai (Sembene), 48, 71
En attendant le bonheur (Sissako),
195–9, 196, 197
Enfance, volée, L’ (Noury), 97
Enfant endormi, L’ (Kassari), 152
Enfants des néons, Les (Tsaki), 89
Enfants du vent, Les (Tsaki), 88
Esquive, L (Kechiche), 147
Essaïda (Zran), 144
Essential, The (Haroun), 159
Essentiel, L’ (Haroun), 159
Et demain? (Babaï), 83
Exilé, L’ (Ganda), 47
Exile, The (Ganda), 47
Faat-Kine (Sembene), 73
Facteur, Le (Noury), 97
Fadel, Youssef, 151
Fadika, Kramo Lanciné, 88, 92, 110
Fad’Jal (Faye), 49, 80
Falaise, La (Bensaidi), 184
Fall, Aminata, 136
Fantômas (Feuillade), 25
Far away (Téchiné), 183
Faraw! Mother of the Dunes (Ascofaré),
Faraw! Une mère des sables (Ascofaré),
Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, 191
Fatima (Hondo), 78
Fatima, l’Algérienne de Dakar (Hondo),
Fatma 75 (Baccar), 80
Faye, Safi, 48, 49, 79–80, 94
Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder), 191
Fellagas, Les (Khlifi), 76
Fellagas, The (Khlifi), 76
Fellini, Federico, 191
Female Demon, The (Zinaï-Koudil), 95
Ferhati, Jillali, 63, 90, 95, 183
Ferroukhi, Ismaïl, 146
Feuillade, Louis, 25
Fila, Jean-Pierre, 161
Fille de Carthage, La (Samama Chikly),
Finye (Cisse), 78–9
Finzan (Sissoko), 92, 133
Fire! (Drabo), 135
Fire Dance, The (Baccar), 80
First Step (Bouamari), 118
Five Cursed Gentlemen, The (LuitzMorat), 22
Flaherty, Robert, 117
Fleur de lotus (Laskri), 40
Fofana, Gahité, 144, 145
Forgotten Hillside, The (Bouguermouh),
Gabin, Jean, 22
Gamal, Samia, 177
Game, The (Sissako), 192
Gance, Abel, 25
Ganda, Oumarou, 46–7, 171
Gateway to Heaven (Benlyazid), 95
Gautron, Marc, 150
Gaye Ramaka, Joseph, 49, 136
Genèse, La (Sissoko), 134, 170
Genesis (Sissoko), 134, 170
Gerima, Haile, 154
Girl, The (Cisse), 78
Girl from Carthage, The (Samama
Chikly), 25
Glover, Dany, 134
Godard, Jean-Luc, 153, 154
Gods Must Be Crazy, The (Uys), 26–7
Goï Goï le nain (Haroun), 159
Golden Horseshoes (Bouzid), 91
Gomis, Alain, 144, 145
Gounajjar, Noureddine, 132
Grammaire de grand-mère, La (Bekolo),
Grand blanc de Lambaréné, Le (Ba
Kobhio), 100
Grand voyage, Le (Legzouli), 146
Grand voyage, Le (Tazi), 90–1
Grandmother’s Grammar (Bekolo), 153
Great White Man of Lambaréné, The (Ba
Kobhio), 100
Guelwaar (Sembene), 72–3
Guerdjou, Bourlem, 147
Guerre de Libération, La (collective),
Guerre du pétrole n’aura pas lieu, La
(Benbarka), 83
Guimba The Tyrant (Sissoko), 133–4,
Guima, un tyran, une époque (Sissoko),
133–4, 170
Hadjadj, Belkacem, 98,99
Halfaouine (Boughedir), 58, 110, 131
Halfaouine, l’enfant des terrasses
(Boughedir), 131
Hamama, Faten, 30
Hammer and the Anvil, The (Noury), 97
Haramuya (Touré), 103
Haroun, Mahamat Saleh, 44, 47, 63,
144, 145, 147, 154, 158–66, 197
Hassan terro (Lakhdar Hamina), 74
Hello Cousin! (Allouache), 98
Heremakono (Sissako), 195–9, 196, 197
Héritage, L’ (Bouamari), 118
Hirondelles ne meurent pas à Jérusalem,
Les (Behi), 84
Histoire d’une rencontre (Tsaki), 88–9
Hole in the Wall, A (Ferhati), 90
Holiday Back Home (Teno), 101
Homme de cendres, L’ (Bouzid), 91
Homme du Niger, L’ (Baroncelli), 22
Homme qui regardait les fenêtres, L’
(Allouache), 97
Hondo, Med, 47, 62, 76–8, 88, 111,
112–13, 150, 154, 156
Hurlements (Khlifi), 76
Hyena’s Sun (Behi), 84
Hyenas (Diop-Mambety), 113–14
Hyènes (Diop-Mambety), 113–14
Iguerbouchen, Mohamed, 24
Immatriculation temporaire (Fofana),
Immigrant’s Song, An (Mesbahi), 149
Imunga Ivanga, Léon, 46, 149–50
In Casablanca Angels Don’t Fly (Asli),
In het Huis van mijn Vader (Jebli
Ouazzani), 42,147
In My Father’s House (Jebli Ouazzani),
42, 147
Ingram, Rex, 25
Inheritance, The (Bouamari), 118
Insurrectionelle (Beloufa), 119
Ivan’s Childhood (Tarkovsky), 191
Jaïbi, Fadhel, 115–16
Jarmusch, Jim, 163
Jaziri, Fadhel, 115–16
Jebli Ouazzani, Fatima, 42, 147
Jom (Samb-Makharam), 170
Journeys (Bensaidi), 184
Judex (Feuillade), 25
Kabore, Gaston, 50, 63, 123–5, 154
Kaddu Beykat (Faye), 48, 79
Kamwa, Daniel, 110
Karim and Sala (Ouedraogo), 102
Karmen Geï (Gaye Ramaka), 136
Kassari, Yasmine, 95, 144, 149, 152
Kechiche, Abdellatif, 146
Keid Ensa (Benlyazid), 95
Keïta, Balla Moussa, 134
Keita, Mama, 145
Keïta, Salif, 134
Keïta! L’Héritage du griot (Kouyaté),
168–71, 169, 174
Keïta! The Heritage of the Griot
(Kouyaté), 168–71, 169, 174
Kelani, Tunde, 156
Ken Bugul (Sene Absa), 136
Keswa (Bornaz), 94–5
Khemir, Nacer, 123, 128–30
Khlat, Yasmine, 177
Khleifi, Michel, 176
Khlifi, Omar, 37, 62, 76
Khorma (Saadi), 155
Kid, The (Chaplin), 163
Kini & Adams (Ouedraogo), 103
Kodou (Samb-Makharam), 48
Kouyaté, Dani, 49, 50, 62, 63, 144, 154,
159, 167–75
Kouyaté, Sotigui, 134, 159, 167, 168,
Krauss, Jacques, 23
Ktari, Naceur, 83–4
Kunene, Vusi, 103
La Strada (Fellini), 191
Laada (Touré), 103
Laafi (Yaméogo), 93
Ladjimi, Mohamed, 144, 145
Lagtaâ, Abdelkader, 96–7
Lakhdar Hamina, Malek, 148
Lakhdar Hamina, Mohamed, 31–2, 37,
39, 40, 62, 74–5, 88, 148
Laplaine, Zeka, 145
Laskri, Amar, 40
Last Image, The (Lakhdar Hamina), 75
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean), 32
Lee, Spike, 153
Legzouli, Hassan, 144, 146
Leila and the Others (Mazif), 82
Leïla et les autres (Mazif), 82
Leila My Reason (Louhichi), 178
Letter from My Village (Faye), 48, 79
Letter from New York (Haroun), 159
Lettre paysanne (Faye), 48, 79
Life on Earth (Sissako), 193–5, 195
Living in Paradise (Guerdjou), 147
Loin (Téchiné), 183
Long Journey, The (Legzouli), 146
Looking for My Wife’s Husband (Tazi),
14, 42, 110, 132
Lotus Flower (Laskri), 40
Louhichi, Taïeb, 128, 145, 177
Louss (Benhadj), 89
Love Affair in Casablanca, A (Lagtaâ),
Lovers of Mogador, Les (Benbarka), 83
Loves of Hadj Soldi, The (Derkaoui),
Luiz-Morat, 22
Lumière, Louis and Auguste, 21–2
Lumière noire (Hondo), 77–8
Machaho (Hadjadj), 99
Madame Brouette (Sene Absa), 138
Magic Box, The (Behi), 84
Make-Believe Horses (Ferhati), 90
Malentendu colonial, Le (Teno), 101
Man of Aran (Flaherty), 117
Man of Ashes (Bouzid), 91
Man of the Niger, The (Baroncelli), 22
Man Who Looked at Windows, The
(Allouache), 97
Mandabi (Sembene), 48, 69–70
Mandat, Le (Sembene), 37, 48, 69–70
Maral Taniel (Haroun), 159
Marteau et l’enclume, Le (Noury), 97
Masrouki, Habib, 115
Mazif, Sid Ali, 62, 82
Mbala, Roger Gnoan, 47
Me and My White Guy (Yaméogo), 94
Meddour, Azzedine, 98, 99
Mektoub (Ayouch), 183
Men’s Season, The (Tlatli), 95–6
Mensah, Charles, 149
Mesbahi, Abdellah, 148
Mesbahi, Imane, 61, 144, 148–9
Mille et une mains (Benbarka), 83
Mille mois (Bensaidi), 185–90, 187, 188
Minka (Camara), 152
Mirage (Bouanani), 115, 133
Mirka (Benhadj), 41, 89–90
Mohloki, David, 103
Moi et mon blanc (Yaméogo), 94
Moi un noir (Rouch), 47
Moknèche, Nadir, 147
Money (Ivanga Imunga), 149–50
Money Order, The (Sembene), 37, 48,
Monsieur Fabre’s Mill (Rachedi), 75–6
Montagne de Baya, La (Meddour), 99
Moolade (Sembene), 73
Mora Kpaï, Idrissou, 144, 145, 146
Mory, Philippe, 149
Mossane (Faye), 80
Moufti, Hassan, 61
Moulin de M. Fabre, Le (Rachedi), 75–6
Mouyeke, Camille, 144, 145
Muna Moto (Dikongue-Pipa), 45, 55
Mur, Le (Bensaidi), 184
Murray, David, 136
Naciri, Saïd, 42, 110
Nacro, Régina Fanta, 49, 62, 95, 145,
149, 150–1
Nahdi, Lamine, 116
Nahla (Beloufa), 119
Napoléon (Gance), 25
Navarro, Ramon, 25
Ndeysaan (Wade), 135–6
N’Diaye, Samba Félix, 49
Neighbour, The (Bendeddouche), 41
Nejjar, Narjiss, 95, 144, 155
Neon Children, The (Tsaki), 89
Ngakane, Lionel, 154
Ngangura, Mweze, 145
Nicolaï, Anka, 177
Night of the Decade, The (Babaï), 83
Night of Truth, The (Nacro), 95, 150–1
Nitt . . . Ndoxx (Gaye Ramaka), 136
Noce, La (Nouveau Théâtre de Tunis),
Noce d’été (Ladjimi), 144
Noces de sang (Benbarka), 83
Noire de . . . La (Sembene), 37, 48, 54–5,
69, 73
Noro, Line, 24
Notre fille (Kamwa), 110
Noua (Tolbi), 81
Nouba, La (Djebar), 80, 119–20
Nouba des femmes du mont Chenoa, La
(Djebar), 119–20
Nouveau Théâtre de Tunis, 115–16
Noury, Hakim, 63
Nous avons toute la mort pour dormir
(Hondo), 77
Nuit de la décennie, La (Babaï), 83
Nuit de la vérité, La (Nacro), 95, 150–1
Nyamanton (Sissoko), 88, 92
O les jours (El Maânouni), 84
October (Sissako), 192, 193
Odoutan, Jean, 144, 145, 146
Oil War Will Not Take Place, The
(Benbarka), 83
Olvidados, Los (Buñuel), 151
Omar Gatlato (Allouache), 97, 98,
Ombre de la terre, L’ (Louhichi), 128
Ombre du pharaon, L’ (Benbarka), 83
Once Upon a Time (Hadjadj), 99
One Evening in July (Amari), 177
One Nation, Algeria (Vautier), 31
One Summer in La Goulette (Boughedir),
25, 131
Opium and the Stick (Rachedi), 74, 88
Opium et le bâton, L’ (Rachedi), 74, 88
Other World, The (Allouache), 98
Ouaga Saga (Kouyaté), 174–5, 174
Ouedraogo, Idrissa, 27, 49, 50, 56, 62,
79, 102–3, 123, 125–7
Ouenangare, Didier, 37, 47, 100, 163
Our Daughter (Kamwa), 110
Our Father (Haroun), 145, 162–5, 163
Ozon, François, 176
Paradis des pauvres (Mesbahi), 149
Paradise of the Poor, The (Mesbahi), 149
Parisian Love Story, A (Allouache), 97
Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 83, 176
Passenger, The (Antonioni), 191
People on the March, A (Vautier and
Rachedi), 32, 38
Pépé le Moko (Duvivier), 23–4
Petit à petit (Rouch), 79
Peuple en marche (Vautier and Rachedi),
32, 38
Plage des enfants perdus, La (Ferhati), 90
Poirier, Léon, 22
Polisario – A People in Arms (Hondo),
Polisario, un peuple en armes (Hondo),
Porte au ciel, La (Benlyazid), 95
Porte close, La (Lagtaâ), 96
Postman, The (Noury), 97
Poupées d’argile (Bouzid), 92
Poupées de roseau (Ferhati), 90
Pousse-Pousse (Kamwa), 110
Prayer for the Absent, A (Benani), 115
Premier pas (Bouamari), 116
Price of Forgiveness, The (Wade), 135–6,
Promio, Alexandre, 22
Quand les hommes pleurent (Kassari),
Quartier Mozart (Bekolo), 62, 153, 154
Queen Mother, The (Mora Kpaï), 146
Rabi (Kabore), 124
Rachedi, Ahmed, 31–2, 37, 38, 62, 74,
75–6, 80–1, 88
Rachida (Bachir Chouikh), 40, 95
Raeburn, Michael, 26
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg), 32
Rajaounarivelo, Raymond, 145
Ramès, Dalida, 177
Rchich, Abdelmajid, 62
Rebel, The (Khlifi), 76
Rebelle, Le (Khlifi), 76
Red Satin (Amari), 95, 177–82, 178, 179
Reed Dolls (Ferhati), 90
Refus, Le (Bouamari), 118
Refusal, The (Bouamari), 118
Reggab, Mohamed, 90
Regrave, Vanessa, 41, 89
Réjane, 22
Riad, Mohamed Slim, 74
Rio Bravo (Hawks), 175
Roman d’un spahi, Le (Berhheim), 22
Rose des sables (Benhadj), 89
Rostov-Luanda (Sissako), 193
Rouch, Jean, 46–7, 79
Rue Princesse (Duparc), 110
Saadi, Yacef, 39
Sabots en or, Les (Bouzid), 91
Sabriya (Sissako), 192
Saheb-Ettaba, Nawfel, 144, 149, 152
Saïl, Nour Eddine, 90–1
Saison des hommes, La (Tlatli), 95–6
Salle d’attente, La (Gounajjar), 132
Salut Cousin! (Allouache), 98
Samama Chikly, Albert, 24–5, 33
Samb-Makharam, Ababacar, 48, 49, 170
Samba Traoré (Ouedraogo), 102
Sand Storm (Lakhdar Hamina), 75
Sango Malo (Ba Kobhio), 100
Sanou, Kollo Daniel, 60
Sarraouinia (Hondo), 47, 77, 88
Satin Rouge (Amari), 95, 177–82, 178,
Saugeon, Nathalie, 151
Scam, The (Kechiche), 147
Scorsese, Martin, 154
Scotto, Vincent, 24
Screams (Khlifi), 76
Seck, Amadou Saalum, 49
Sejnane (Ben Ammar), 82–3
Sembene, Ousmane, 12, 13, 37, 48, 54,
60, 61, 62, 69–73, 88, 110, 135,
154, 170
Sene Absa, Moussa, 49, 136–8, 144
Shadow of the Earth, The (Louhichi),
128, 177
Shadow of the Pharaoh (Benbarka), 83
She is Diabetic and Hypertensive and She
Refuses to Die (Noury), 97, 110
Si-Gueriki (Mora Kpaï), 146,
Sia, le rêve du python (Kouyaté), 171–4,
Sia, The Dream of the Python (Koutaté),
171–4, 173
Silence de la forêt, Le (Ouenangare and
Ba Kobhio), 47, 100
Silence of the Forest, The (Ouenangare
and Ba Kobhio), 47, 100
Silences du palais, Les (Tlatli), 94–5
Silences of the Palace (Tlatli), 94–5
Silmandé (Yaméogo), 94
Sin, The (Barakat), 30
Sissako, Abderrahmane, 47, 63, 143,
144, 145, 147, 154, 156, 191–200
Sissoko, Cheick Oumar, 48, 56, 63, 88,
92–3, 133–4, 170
Skirt Power (Drabo), 135
Sleeping Child, The (Kassari), 152
Smihi, Moumen, 111, 115
Soleil d’hyènes (Behi), 84
Soleil O (Hondo), 76, 112
Soler, 24
Soltane el Medina! (Dhouib), 131–2
Sotigui Kouyaté, un griot moderne
(Haroun), 159
Soudani, Mohamed, 145
Sous la clarté de la lune (Traoré), 95
Sow, Thierno Faty , 49
Stolen Childhood (Noury), 97
Storaro, Vittorio, 41, 90
Story of a Meeting (Tsaki), 88–9
Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch), 163
Such a Simple Story (Ben Ammar), 82
Sultan of the Medina, The (Dhouib),
Summer Wedding (Ladjimi), 144
Sur les traces de l’oubli (Amari), 177
Swallows Don’t Die in Jerusalem (Behi),
Ta dona (Drabo), 135
Taafe fanga (Drabo), 135
Tableau ferraille (Sene Absa), 137
Tahia ya didou (Zinet), 118–19
Tales of the Arabian Nights (Tourjansky),
Tambours de feu (Benbarka), 83
Tarkovsky, Andrei, 191
Tazi, Mohamed Abderrahmane, 14, 42,
63, 90–1, 95, 110, 132, 181
Téchiné, André, 183
Tenja (Legzouli), 146
Teno, Jean-Marie, 101, 145
Thiam, Momar, 48, 49
Thousand and One Hands, A
(Benbarka), 83
Thousand Months, A (Bensaidi), 185–90,
187, 188
Tilaï (Ouedraogo), 102, 125, 126–7
Timité, Bassori, 37, 47
Tlatli, Moufida, 94–6, 119
Tolbi, Abdelaziz, 81
Tomazini, Despina, 177
Touchia (Benhadj), 89
Touki Bouki (Diop Mambety), 48,
Touré, Drissa, 103
Tourjansky, Victor, 25
Traces (Benani), 115
Tracking Oblivion (Amari), 177
Trajets (Bensaidi), 184
Trances (El Maânouni), 84
Transes (El Maânouni), 84
Traoré, Apolline, 95
Tresses (Ferhati), 90, 183,
Tsaki, Brahim, 88–9
Tunisiennes (Bouzid), 92
Twist Again (Sene Absa), 136–7
Un amour à Casablanca (Lagtaâ), 96
Un amour à Paris (Allouache), 97
Un été à La Goulette (Boughedir), 25,
Un soir de juillet (Amari), 177
Un thé au Sahel (Haroun), 159
Under the Moonlight (Traoré), 95
Une brèche dans le mur (Ferhati), 90
Une couleur café (Duparc), 110
Une nation, l’Algérie (Vautier), 31
Une prière pour l’absent (Benani), 115
Une si simple histoire (Ben Ammar), 82
Uys, Jamie (Jacobus Johannes), 26–7
Vacances au pays (Teno), 101
Vautier, René, 31–2, 38, 74
Vent de sable (Lakhdar Hamina), 75
Vent des Aurès, Le (Lakhdar Hamina),
37, 74
Vie sur terre, La (Sissako), 193–5, 195
Vieyra, Paulin Soumanou, 49, 61, 62
Village Teacher, The (Ba Kobhio), 100
Viva Laldjérie (Moknèche), 147
Vivre au paradis (Guerdjou), 147
Voie, La (Riad), 74
Voisine, La (Bendeddouche), 41
Waati (Cisse), 79
Wade, Mansour Sora, 49, 135–6, 165
Waiting for Happiness (Sissako), 195–9,
196, 197
Waiting Room, The (Gounajjar), 132
Wall, The (Bensaidi), 184
Wariko, le gros lot (Fadika), 92
Watani (Hondo), 78
Watani, un monde sans mal (Hondo), 78
Way, The (Riad), 74
We Have All of Death to Sleep (Hondo),
Wechma (Benani), 115
Wedding, The (Nouveau Théâtre de
Tunis), 115–16
Welles, Orson, 185
Wend Kuuni (Kabore), 50, 123–4, 125,
Wendemi (Yaméogo), 93–4
West Indies (Hondo), 76, 112–13
West Indies ou les nègres marrons de la
liberté (Hondo), 76, 112–13
When Men Weep (Kassari), 152
Wind, The (Cisse), 78–9
Wind from the Aurès, The (Lakhdar
Hamina), 37, 74
Wind Horse, The (Aoulad Syad), 133,
Women’s Wiles (Benlyazid), 95
Work (Cisse), 78
Woukouache, François, 144
Xala (Sembene), 70–1
Ya ouled (Benallal), 81
Yaaba (Ouedraogo), 102, 125, 126, 163
Yam daabo (Ouedraogo), 102, 125–6
Yaméogo, S. Pierre, 50, 93–4
Yeelen (Cisse), 48, 79, 111, 127–8
Yeux secs, Les (Nejjar), 95, 155
Ymer or the Flowering Thistles (Chrigui),
Ymer ou les Chardons Florifères
(Chrigui), 132
Youcef, la légende du septième dormant
(Chouikh), 61, 130
Youssef – The Legend of the Seventh
Sleeper (Chouikh), 61, 130
Zan Boko (Kabore), 124
Zinaï-Koudil, Hafsa, 95
Zinet, Mohamed, 40, 118–19
Zohra (Samama Chikly), 25
Zran, Mohamed, 144
Zyl, Johann van, 27
Related flashcards
Create Flashcards